MILWAUKEE – Intense rivalries often produce intense finishes. But one would be hard pressed to find a better ending to a bout between two bitter foes than the one between the Panthers and Green Bay.
UWM point guard Jordan Johnson, who took over down the stretch offensively, scored a huge basket plus the foul with 4.6 seconds left to break a 92-92 tie. The floor general finished with 17 points and 8 assists, while playing all 40 minutes.
“Just get downhill and score, and make sure I get the foul,” Johnson said regarding his clutch drive.
He would convert the and-one to push the lead to three, but the Phoenix had one last punch in them, thanks largely to Milwaukee miscues.
On the ensuing inbounds pass, swingman Akeem Springs committed a costly foul before the pass was thrown in (the call drew absolute ire from the loud Panther Arena crowd), and Green Bay guard Carrington Love drilled both ends of a one-and-one to cut the lead to one.
Springs caught the subsequent inbound and went to the line, but came up empty. He finished 4 of 10 from the foul line throughout the game. However, he kept his composure after this, stealing a pass after Green Bay’s rebound to preserve the win.
“I shot tough from the free throw line, but I’ll make those shots,” said Springs. “I was just thinking ‘next play,’ Coach (Rob Jeter) always preaches ‘next play'”.
Jeter was lighthearted following the game regarding Springs’ flair for the dramatic.
“He kind of set this up,” he said. “I know how Akeem works; he wanted to get involved and he wanted to save the day and, so he fouls the guy on purpose. I know he did, and he misses two free throws just to save the day.”
All jokes aside, the miscues did add suspense late, but Springs cleaned up his own mess. He finished with 16 points and seven rebounds, and was a key factor in building an early second half lead.
The huge drive by Johnson at the end, along with the other key plays he made in the final minutes, were very much needed, because the Phoenix seemed averse to missing a shot in the last 10 minutes.
The home squad opened the second half with energy, eventually pushing a six-point halftime lead to ten at 61-51. However, that’s when UWGB got hot, going on a 25-10 run to turn the tide in it’s favor. Despite that, Milwaukee had one advantage: already being in the bonus with 7-and-one-half minutes to play. Jeter decided to take advantage of that.
“We talked a lot about not only paint touches, but post touches,” he said. “I think, in our two previous games, especially the one before, we got to that same situation and we settled for some outside shots. Let’s go inside; we know we can’t score three points all the time from going towards the rim, but we can get the three-point play. And I think it also allows the officials to become part of it; you start racking up some fouls.”
However, because of Green Bay’s torrid shooting, the Panthers had to chip away at the lead, and it was not until the last two minutes that they really made progress in that department. The Phoenix finished with 53 second-half points on a shooting percentage as hot as a summer day in Phoenix, Ariz. at 73 percent.
Going inside and drawing fouls is often the remedy when facing an offense that cannot miss. Despite shooting at nowhere near UWGB’s clip, Milwaukee managed to remain competitive by outscoring the road squad 18-4 at the charity stripe in the frame.
The first half was full of adventure from three for the Panthers, particularly from swingman Austin Arians, who knocked down his first four from downtown and had 14 points at halftime. However, the Phoenix figured him out and held him to just six in the second half. All but two of his 15 field goal attempts came from long range.
Johnson was held in check throughout the first half, but he was a quality facilitator during that stanza, and had a driving layup to end that half on a high note for Milwaukee. Go figure.
Despite the big plays from Springs and Johnson in the second half and the hot shooting from Arians in the first, forward Matt Tiby had arguably the best statistical game for the Panthers, pouring in 20 points and adding six boards, along with five dishes to boot. Tiby had some key inside baskets in the first half, including a thunderous jam after receiving a pass down the lane. In addition, he hit some clutch free throws, including one following a technical on Green Bay that came after the Phoenix got a basket plus the foul.
Fellow forward J.J. Panoske finished with eight points and four snags, guard Cody Wichmann knocked down a three in each half to finish with six, and guard Brock Stull finished with four points, but two of them were key.
Stull drove the left baseline and nearly converted a dunk-and-one, but the ball bounced out. However, he knocked down both the free throws at a key moment in the second half. He is not known for garnering minutes in crunch time.
For the game, UWM shot 52.5 percent, while UWGB shot 63.3. However, the Panthers outscored their rivals at the free throw line, 23-11, outrebounded them, 33-29, and hit ten threes to the Phoenix’s seven.
Milwaukee now enters a five-game road stretch, including three against fellow Horizon League-upper echelon foes Wright State (their next game), Oakland and another match against the Phoenix, before coming home for the final four games of the season. Tip time against the Raiders is set for Thursday at 6 p.m.