HLT Semifinal: Milwaukee loses, 93-80, bows out vs. Cleveland State

We didn't have our best showing last night in Indy.

Milwaukee's 3-game winning streak and Dance hopes came to an abrupt end against the Cleveland State Vikings in the second Horizon League Semifinal very late last night on ESPN2.

The '22-'23 Milwaukee Panthers were a joy to watch progress and almost get to the HLT Championship

First, let's talk the few positives. Jalen Johnson (24pts on 10-14, 4-4 shooting to go along with 8 rebounds) continued his late-season progress surge. But unfortunately almost everyone else on the team had an off night at Farmers Colosseum. I really do think Jalen is going to develop into an Anthony Hill-like all-conference post player. Imagine if he played like he did near the end of the season- all season? Curtains.

Another big positive is that we got some postseason experience for this young team and we will be getting them more experience. Coach Lundy announced that Milwaukee has accepted an invitation to play in the CBI also-ran tournament. This is not what we strive for postseason-wise but these guys earned the opportunity to keep playing and getting better. Who knows? We aren't a big or good enough program to turn down an offer to continue the season- we need the experience and exposure.

Maybe we will be discussing the merits of putting up a CBI banner in a few weeks if we can go on just one last run... (I think we'd all agree we want to hang more conference tournament and regular season championship banners, though).

Keep a close eye on the Panthers, this season is just the beginning of a new era

Now let's talk the not-so-positives.

Yeesh where to start. From the vantage point of the ESPN2 broadcast, we had a very deer-in-the-headlights look from the tip. Cleveland State, who appears to have a roster (outside of Junior star Tae Williams) of mainly over-25 super-duper seniors*, was poised and hardly rattled by the magnitude of this contest. (to be fair it is hard to get rattled when there are barely 2 thousand fans dispersed throughout a huge 7k arena). Attendance was curiously unannounced but it didn't look like a very fun place to play a Championship Semifinal.

To be sure though- the Milwaukee contingent of fans (small but loud) could be clearly heard chanting MIL-WAU-KEE over the broadcast in the few bright moments there were for us. It'd be nice to host more HLTs in Panther Arena. That place comes alive with the old magic in Semis and Championship games. Such a beautiful place in stark contrast to Farmers Coliseum last night.

This was not the March ending the Panthers had in mind; we did beat the odds in '22-'23

The Vikings rushed out to a 20-5 advantage before the Panthers could call their first timeout and ask each other "what the he** just happened?" The Vikings fed the Panthers a steady diet of mid range jumpers and inside post ups and Milwaukee had little to no counter..

Compounding the Panther's defensive woes was the fact that our (unofficial) 1st Team All-Horizon shooter BJ Freeman  (19pts, 4reb, 4ast but 0-7 from distance) couldn't get the lid off the hoop. Josh Thomas (10pts, 3reb, 2stl) was 2-2 from 3 but as a team, we were hardly "sniping from distance" at a frigid 5-25 on the night.


Outside and above all the tournaments and accolades, this is what College Basketball is really all about 💛🖤💛🖤

The Vikings put 5 players in deep double figures and overall, this game came down to shooting percentages. Milwaukee couldn't buy a bucket for the vast majority of offensive possessions last night.

The game was in hand for Cleveland State at half time as the Vikings led the Panthers 46-28 at the break. The second half didn't get much better (until the final 7 minutes but by then it was already too late). The Vikings seemed to be running circles around an uncharacteristically slower and less sharp Panther offense and defense. It was as if our energy was depleted incrementally with each missed shot.

Milwaukee mounted a semi-furious comeback to try and keep this Semifinal game from slipping away. But it was too little, too late. After cutting the Viking lead from 25 to 10 with 6:00 remaining, we got called for a bench technical foul which stopped the rally like a gunshot and quickly gave 5 points back to CSU.

Again, not much to say here other than again- this came down to shooting percentages. Almost all the other stats are a wash. Milwaukee went down to defeat 93-80. The hopes for a March Madness Big Dance appearance are gone from the eager minds of newly (overly-)confident Panther fans like myself.

FG          3PT       FT

49.3%   33.3%   86.4%

40.3%   20.0%   76.5%

And so with the CBI, Milwaukee Panther Basketball will go on. Our opponent and exact game time have not yet been announced. Regardless of how we fare in the CBI this team has already put in the hard work necessary for a memorable, historic season. 21-11 (and possibly more wins) is an awesome achievement by this team and staff.

Here's to a successful CBI run, elevating the program, and some head-turning in-state and out-of-state recruiting for '23-'24 and beyond.

*I hope they can beat us at least once in a season what with all that overseas-career-like experience on their roster (sour grapes, I know...)

go panthers  
stack good days.