PantherU

Panthers win conference opener

What a difference a year makes.  After finishing in the basement of the Horizon League a season ago, the Milwaukee Panthers (11-4, 1-0) have started the new conference year out on a bang with a 82-76 victory over Youngstown State (9-7, 0-1).

Jordan Aaron led the way as he scored 27 points on 9-15 shooting from the field, while logging five rebounds and four assists.  Steve McWhorter was also a big contributor as he continues to impress in his first season as a Panther.  He finished the night with 17 points and three assists.  Kyle Kelm added 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Matt Tiby had 11 points and seven rebounds.

“Tonight’s performance – his steadiness, his poise, his ability to hit open shots – those are the strengths we’re trying to use with Jordan. Steve allows Jordan to play that way. Steve allows Jordan to play with the ball on the wing and I think Steve has really been the big difference for us in running our team.”

In the first half, it was obvious the 11 days off had an impact on the Panthers.  They came out rusty, and were not performing like a 10 win team.  Although they took the lead in the first two minutes, Milwaukee turned the ball over nine times in the half.   The Panthers got lucky though as Youngstown State struggled to shoot the ball making only 37.5 of their shots, giving Milwaukee the 39-29 lead at halftime.

“We’ve had a long break here.  We’ve had a lot of time between games,” said head coach Rob Jeter.  “I think the turnovers show that, a little rust there.”

Milwaukee came out in the second half and played better fundamentally as they only turned the ball over six times while making a higher percentage of their shoots.  This allowed the Panthers to continue to extend their lead, as they were able to stretch it to 19 with 8:14 left in the game on two free throw makes by Aaron.

This did not stop Youngstown State though as they continued to fight back cutting the Panthers lead to six with less than three minutes to play, but the deficit was too much for them to overcome.

“We got a little sloppy down the stretch,” Aaron said. “We knew they were going to come with a fight. They weren’t going to bow down.”

For the entire 40 minutes of basketball the Panthers shot 46.2 percent (24-52) from the field, while hitting 42.9 percent (9-21) of their three-point shots.  They also did a phenomenal job from the charity strip making 80.6 percent (25-31) of their chances.

“It’s important that you (make free throws), especially when you’re protecting a lead,” said Jeter.

Milwaukee did a great job on the boards, outrebounded Youngstown State 40-31 on the night.

It was not Milwaukee’s best performance by any means, but they were able to walk away with the victory.  This was a great win to open their conference season, but it  was not easy.

“We will take it, we’re 1-0, we’re going to move onto Saturday.  I am very proud of this team,” Jeter said.  “It hasn’t been easy all season, and tonight wasn’t easy at all but these guys seemed to keep their cool.  They keep playing – that is a positive.”

Up next the Panthers will face Cleveland State on Saturday night at the US Cellular Arena.

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