Sunday, January 06, 2008

UWM Panthers Show The Heart of a Champion

A sports story that was inexplicably buried on the 6th page of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and nowhere to be found nationally, was that of the UWM Panthers' victory over the Detroit Titans on Saturday. This is a story that should not remain obscured.

Panther fans may know that this was the 4th game UWM was playing without the services of Torre Johnson, formerly their leading scorer and arguably their best player at the time. Johnson was unceremoniously booted from the team after being charged with "Substantial Battery - Intend Bodily Harm," as listed on Wisconsin Circuit Court access.

Coinciding with the removal of Torre Johnson was the demotion and suspension of freshmen Tim Flowers and Kevin Johnson, in addition to junior Roman Gentry leaving the team for personal reasons. Both freshmen had been key components in the UWM rotation earlier in the year, with Flowers actually starting 8 games. Gentry was also a contributor, starting 4 games for the Panthers this season.

Fortunately for head coach Rob Jeter, the Panthers still had 10 players plus redshirt Brad Garrett. And these remaining players have taken to playing a strong team game, eschewing personal goals for that of the team. Unexpectedly, the Panthers had beaten Wyoming, Central Michigan, and Wright State heading into Saturday night's game. Their RPI had soared from a season low of 216th to 174th. The Panthers were showing that a team concept can produce amazing results. Even if their overall talent level had fallen off, their attitude quotient had risen through the ceiling.

Then came Saturday night's game. Playing Horizon League rival Detroit, a team that had also kicked its best player to the curb (Brandon Cotton), Milwaukee found itself in an early hole. The Titans' 2-3 zone was causing the Panthers fits, and a cold shooting night (32.1 percent from the field) was not helping.

With 6:43 remaining, UWM trailed 48-34. After 3 resilient games, it seemed as though the Panthers' run would come to an end. Rob Jeter set up a full-court press in a last-ditch effort to raise the number of possessions for the remainder of the game. Something clicked. The Panthers immediately went on an 11-0 run, pulling within 3 with 4:52 remaining. The Titans were being stifled by the press, and leading scorer Jon Goode was obviously running out of steam. The run was temporarily sidetracked, as Detroit pulled ahead 53-49 with 1:45 left.

No one could have blamed the Panthers for running out of gas here, but the raucous crowd picked them up, and some untimely Detroit fouls allowed 3 UWM free throws to cut Detroit's lead to 53-52. 44 seconds were left, and Detroit owned possession of the ball. With 26 seconds left, Deonte Roberts deflected the ball loose, about 10 feet away from any player. The ball came to rest near half court on the floor. Ricky Franklin, playing in jersey number 34 after getting blood on his usual number 5, dove to the ground and slid for at least 7 feet on the floor, undoubtedly acquiring some floorburn but also reaching his goal, the loose ball. Detroit tied him up, forcing a jump ball. Possession went to Milwaukee with 22 seconds remaining. Milwaukee would have one last chance to complete the comeback.

Detroit's defense clamped down, forcing the Panthers to run the clock further down than they would have preferred. With 4 seconds left, Deion James handed off to Paige Paulsen well beyond the arc, about 32, 33 feet out. It was as good of a shot as the Panthers could muster, unguarded but too deep for a normal possession. Paulsen fired with 2 seconds remaining and willed in the bomb, setting off a wild celebration. A deflated Titan squad missed the obligatory full-court heave attempt, and the appreciative Panther squad high-fived and hugged the entire front row on their way to the locker room.

This had to be one of the most exhilarating games in college basketball this season, a frantic come-from-behind victory in front of a small (3,410) but supportive crowd.

Jeter summed it up best with his post-game comments, saying "The last part of that game really shows how far we have come as a team. That last little scramble for the ball ... it looked like Ricky (Franklin) dove about 15 feet to finally get to that ball. I'm just so proud of the way they won the game. They went after it and they won it."

The last four games should make any Panther fan proud. Here's hoping for many encores to come.

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Blogger Marketing Sensei said...

Dude - I wish I was there.

8:57 AM  

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