Men’s Basketball: Panthers drop Raiders in HL Championship
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A frazzled and dazed Wright State squad was not ready at the opening horn of the Horizon League Men’s Basketball title game Tuesday and UW-Milwaukee made the Raiders pay.
An early 12-0 run put Wright State behind the 8-Ball and quieted the near capacity crowd in the Nutter Center as WSU fell 69-63.
“Congratulate Milwaukee, they have done a terrific job, their toughness, their resiliency, it is a great credit to those kids,” Wright State head coach Billy Donlon said.
Wright State repeated its fate from last year when the Raiders fell at Valpo in the league title game. Donlon said his seniors should be
congratulated for making back-to-back Horizon League title games.
“It is a very, very difficult defeat obviously but they will be incredible people, they will live great lives, they will represent Wright State in an unbelievable manner,” Donlon said.
The Panthers earned their fourth NCAA Tournament bid and prevented Wright State from its third appearance.
Milwaukee is the first No. 5 seed to ever win the Horizon League Championships but is the third team in four years to win on someone else’s court.
Milwaukee entered the season picked to finish last in conference.
“These guys really battled through, we all battled through and persevered,” Milwaukee head coach Rob Jeter said. “For us to bring home the Horizon League Championships for everybody that stuck with us, for everyone that believe in us, everyone that stuck through the good time and the bad. It is for all of us.”
The season has potentially ended for the Raiders and the careers of their five seniors pending WSU’s entries into the CBI or CIT. Donlon said he and Director of Athletics Bob Grant would meet soon to discuss the Raiders’ postseason opportunities.
Wright State never led in Tuesday’s contest and was not within a possession of UWM for the final 37 minutes of the game.
Wright State forward AJ Pacher led the scoring for WSU with 16. Fellow senior Matt Vest scored 11. Pacher was among players holding back tears as the Raiders walked off the court of the Nutter Center for the final time this year.
Milwaukee’s Kyle Kelm had a game-high 20 with Jordan Aaron, the tournament MVP, adding 18.
“We pride ourselves on defense,” Kelm said. “Coach told us we were going to switch to man (defense) during the tournament. And man is great but you have to get down and make stops. That is what it came down to at the end of the day.”
After Milwaukee led 9-7 early in the contest, the Raiders allowed easy buckets and committed three turnovers that allowed UWM to go on a 12-0 run. The Panthers took a 24-9 lead at 9:58 into the first.
The Raiders countered with an 8-0 run sparked by a pair of JT Yoho 3s just past the midway point of the first. The 3s appeared to settle the Raiders into the game and got many of the 7,784 on hand to stand and cheer.
“It helped us, the way they were guarding JT,” Donlon said. “We just tried to hit home runs when we were down nine or 11. There is no 11-point shot, there is no 11-stop and we tried to tell them at every timeout.”
A pair of free throws by Chrishawn Hopkins drew the Raiders within five with 4:24 but his layup on the ensuing possession was missed. The Panthers took advantage and stretched their lead to 43-33 at halftime.
Wright State quickly responded early in the second half with a pair of blocks which led to lay-ins to cut WSU’s deficit to six within a minute into the second. Once again, WSU could not get over the hump.
“We have been in that situation before like last year at the championship game,” Pacher said. After getting within 3:21 into the second, UWM extended its lead to 10 within two minutes.
The Raiders’ defense was stout down the stretch holding UWM to four points after the Panthers jumped to a 13-point lead with 8:06 left.
Despite Pacher having four fouls, Donlon put his five seniors onto the court hoping to spark a rally. The plan nearly worked.
“We had gone with the five seniors a lot and I thought (they) had gotten the ball in good places a lot,” Donlon said. “I just thought if we could put a string of stops together into fast-break points.”
Wright State rallied and cut the Panthers lead down to four after WSU senior guard Miles Dixon hit a pair of free throws with 1:04 left.
“Late, we missed a layup to get to four with a couple minutes to go, we missed a lot of shots at the rim in the second that were right there,” Donlon said. “That is just basketball. No body wants to hear it because of how badly we wanted to win the game. We missed shots at the rim.”
UWM hit 14-of-16 free throws keeping the Panthers at an arms distance away from the Raiders late in the contest.
After starting the game 8-for-12, the Panthers’ offense cooled and shot 14-of-45 to finish the game.
Milwaukee won at the Nutter Center for the first time since 2005. The was no better time for Kelm to win in his fifth and final appearance in Fairborn.
“That was always in the back of my mind but we didn’t think about it before the game,” Kelm said. “I just thought about coming in here with the same routine as always and we came out with the win.”
Wright State lost the important battle at the glass 35-28.
“Milwaukee is good and they really got after us on the boards and credit their guys especially their seniors,” Vest said. “I am still proud of my team but give credit to Milwaukee.”