The 2005 George Mason Patriots.The 2010 Butler Bulldogs. The 2011 VCU Rams. You can even add the 1980 “Miracle on ice” USA Olympic hockey team to this list. Well maybe that’s too much, but the 2014 Milwaukee Panthers are hoping to live up to these standards after they shocked the Horizon league beating Wright State in the Championship game.
After an 8-24 season last year, the number five seed Panthers showed that they belong on this stage after knocking off Detroit, Valparaiso, Green Bay and now Wright State.
That’s right. The Milwaukee Panthers (21-13) have punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament after beating Wright State (20-14) 69-63 at the Ervin J. Nutter Center, making it their first NCAA appearance since 2006.
After being picked last to finish in the Horizon league the Panthers are hoping to bust some brackets come late March.
Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter has been saying all year how the team last year lacked physicality. That wasn’t a problem tonight. The Panthers dominated the offensive glass, out hustling Wright State for 40 minutes.
The Panthers silenced the Nutter center with their timely three pointers and defense in the paint. Senior Kyle Kelm played huge for the Panthers finishing with a game high 20 points and also collected nine rebounds. AJ Pacher led the way for Wright State adding 16 points.
Senior guard Jordan Aaron scored 18 points as Milwaukee was 9 of 18 from downtown and had a 35-28 advantage on rebounds. Milwaukee got off to a hot start leading 21-7 thanks to former Madison Edgewood star Austin Arians. Arians was able to hit a couple three pointers and added a nice jumper to give the Panthers a big lead. Wright State was able to close the gap to a 10 point game at half.
The Rowdy Raiders of Wright State had no answer for the Three ball. Milwaukee went on a 10-3 run midway through the second half that included another Jordan Aaron three pointer.
Wright State closed the gap to within five with just over a minute left, but Milwaukee was able to finish the game off at the free throw line going 16 for 18 at the strip, with two late free throws from Aaron that put the icing on the cake with under 20 seconds to play. Milwaukee held the lead for the entire game.
Milwaukee wanted this more than anybody.
With under 30 seconds to play, sophomore forward Matt Tiby was fouled hard and stormed after Wright State players. After a brief exchange of words Tiby ran to the free-throw line yelling like a man possessed.
That scene alone sums up the passion and grit Milwaukee brought throughout the season.
In a perfect world many basketball fans would of loved to see Green Bay and star Keifer Sykes in the tournament. But a wise man once said, “that’s why they play the game.” Green Bay still might get an at large-bid going 24-6 this season, but that is unlikely after Milwaukee knocked them out in the semi-final game.
Milwaukee has been proving people wrong all year as they resurrected this program from the dead.
The Panthers don’t care if they have your respect or not. By the end they’ve just earned it. 8 and 24 is no more. The Milwaukee Panthers are going dancing.
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