PantherU

Milwaukee’s season comes to an end

It was an impressive run to get to the NCAA tournament, but the season has come to an end. The overlooked 15 seeded Milwaukee Panthers went to Buffalo, New York expecting to battle and compete against Villanova, and they did just that. Unfortunately though the Panthers fell to the Wildcats 73-53 Thursday evening at the First Niagara Center.

“The score doesn’t really indicate how these guys played – the way they battled and fought,” said Milwaukee head coach Rob Jeter. “I’m really proud of my team. There are going to be 67 teams disappointed like us. I’m proud of them.”

Milwaukee’s offense as a whole struggled, but one player who stepped up big as the lights shined brighter than ever before was Austin Arians. The sophomore forward carried the Panthers with 17 points while making four of his 10 three-point attempts. He also grabbed five rebounds.

Arians performance was huge as Milwaukee’s leading scorer Jordan Aaron struggled to get in a groove. Aaron finished his college career with a six-point performance on one of 15 shooting from the field, while missing all seven of his three-point attempts.

“I’ve just got to credit Villanova. They did a great job of keeping me off balance and just staying into me,” Aaron said. “A lot of shots I took just didn’t fall for me tonight, and you just got to go with what happens out there.”

The first half was not pretty for the Panthers, but they held the momentum most of the time. After going down 6-0 early, Matt Tiby made a three-pointer to give Milwaukee their first points of the game.

Milwaukee continued to work its way back, taking the 13-10 lead on a J.J. Panoske three pointer with 8:04 left in the half. After leading 23-18, the Wildcats went on a 9-0 run to head into halftime with a 27-23 lead.

It was a sloppy first half for both teams as they combined to shoot 28.8 percent (19-66) from the field, while playing careless with the ball at times.

It was a difficult beginning for Aaron who was returning to his home state, missing all seven of his shots from the field. On the bright side, Arians came out of the gate on fire hitting three of his six three-point attempts to finish with nine points at intermission.

Right from the start of the second half, you could just tell that Milwaukee did not have that same energy and confidence they had in the first half when they held the lead over Villanova.

After ending the half on the nine-point run, the Wildcats came out and scored five straight points to go up 32-23.

The Panthers did pull within five with 15:22 left, and even where within four as Arians hit a jumper with 13:13 left. Milwaukee would never get closer the remainder of the game however, as Villanova went onto score the following nine of the next 10 points of the game to give little chance of a comeback for the Black and Gold.

It was a depressing finish to the game as Milwaukee was in it early, but 28.6 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent from three-point range destroyed their chances of pulling off the upset.

Free throw shooting ended up hurting them in the end as well, as they failed to get to the line when it mattered most.  In the first half they only attempted one from the charity strip, while failing to attempt any in the final five minutes of the game.

“The lack of getting to the free throw line in the first half was the difference or the turning point,” said Jeter. “We just didn’t have a chance to get the ball inside.”

No one ever wants to lose in the NCAA tournament, as that means your season has come to an end without winning it all. Milwaukee had an up and down year, but overall no one can complain on how they finished making a run through the Horizon League tournament to earn the automatic bid to the tourney.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my teammates for what they’ve done this season,” Aaron said. “We fought through everything possible we could this season to get to this point, and I can’t be more proud of them for the effort they gave out there tonight and what we’ve done this whole season.

“We went through a lot of ups and downs together, and I will never forget this moment and this team, being a part of this team.”

With this appearance in the NCAA tournament it shows that Panther Basketball is headed in a positive direction, and with the amount of fans that showed up to cheer on Milwaukee, it only enhances that statement. The fans were in the game the entire night no matter the score, and it was nice to see the players thank the fans after the game for all of their support throughout the year.

“Our fans have done a tremendous job the entire year sticking by us,” Aaron said. “Definitely coming off the season we had last year was very rough, and they always stuck by us. They traveled along way to get here, and we just definitely wanted to thank them for that.”

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