Panthers need to avoid early deficit with NKU

For the second time in just over a month the Milwaukee Panthers will meet the Northern Kentucky Norse. The Panthers continue their road trip with a similar feeling from their last meeting. The Panthers first saw Northern Kentucky following a heart breaking loss to Wright State where the Panthers clawed their way back into the game only to lose in overtime. The Panthers entered the Northern Kentucky game in need of a stabilizing bounce back effort against the Norse. The circumstances will be almost identical when the teams reconvene for their rematch on Saturday afternoon as the Norse close their homecoming week.
While Northern Kentucky has lost three of four and has just a 4-7 conference record, most of their games have been competitive towards the end. In the second half of their most recent loss to Green Bay, the Norse cut a 14-point second half deficit down to four in the final minute of the game. The Norse continue to be a strong rebounding team. They out-rebounded Green Bay 37-33, marking the tenth time in the last 17 games that the Norse have done better on the glass than their opponent. The Panthers were able to out-rebound the Norse in the first match-up 39-36.
Individually the Norse continue to be highlighted Jalen Billups, who recorded his third double-double of the season against the Phoenix with 18 points and 12 rebounds. He is averaging 13.5 points per game and 5.9 rebounds on the season. The Panthers held him to six points and six rebounds last month. Junior guard Cole Murray is the 8th best three pointer shooter by percentage (47.9%), but he is hot over his last five games hitting 19-of-28 long ball attempts (67.9%). He won Horizon League Player of the Week honors for his 25-point effort in the Norse’s victory over Detroit a couple weeks ago. Drew McDonald has won the conference’s Freshman of the Week award on two occasions. He is averaging 13.2 points and 7.2 rebounds in conference games. McDonald put up almost identical numbers in the first contest with the Panthers.
In order for the Panthers to go dancing with this season, they must eliminate the very poor starts to games. The issue of starting games lethargically has been a common theme to season, from the Cable Car Classic forward to Thursday against Wright State. Looking specifically at the two games with Wright State, the Panthers have been down by 16 and 20 in the first half, respectively, in each game. The first game with Northern Kentucky had the Panthers starting with a 9-0 deficit before they could blink. While you often hear announcers say that there is a lot of basketball left to be played when teams are facing these kinds of deficits, one can’t help but wonder how the Panthers’ season would look if they weren’t digging themselves into big holes early.
Getting down by these type of margins take a tremendous amount of physical and emotional energy in order to get back in the game. When down by that much, you literally have no margin for error and everything has to go your way in order to even have a chance to get back into the game. The Panthers should not be starting games this poorly. The rotation is put together with players with several years of experience, most of whom have played dozens of games in their careers. In order for the Panthers to reach maximum potential with this season they simply must avoid digging themselves from these massive first half holes. That has to start tonight.

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