Panthers blow out Detroit in Horizon League Tournament opener
DETROIT, Mich. - Jeremiah Bell went off for a season-high 31 points and the Milwaukee men's basketball team put together a brilliant performance on both sides of the ball to post a convincing 85-60 victory over Detroit Mercy Friday night in first round action at Little Caesars Motor City Madness.
The Panthers (9-23) dominated the Titans (8-23) from start to finish, leading by 14 at intermission and by as many as 27 late in the second half. In the process, the team became the first-ever No. 10 seed to win a Horizon League Tournament contest.
"I am proud of our guys," Milwaukee head coach LaVall Jordan said. "In the first half specifically, we were as locked in as we have been all year defensively. Guys were sticking to the game plan and the scout; our communication was tremendous and our rotations were really good. I thought for 20 minutes we converted on the other end of the floor offensively. We attacked when we needed to, slowed it down and executed – just proud of our efforts."
Bell was outstanding, tying the school record for most points in a league tournament contest (Joah Tucker, 31 vs. Loyola in 2005). He finished 9-for-10 from the floor, making 4-of-5 three-pointers in just 26 minutes of action. He also became the first Panther to net 30-plus points off the bench since Avery Smith over 10 years ago (12/2/06).
"This guy right here (Bell) was tremendous," Jordan said. "We knew with their pressure it would open up some driving lanes and some opportunity and J.B. did a great job of finishing."
In addition to Bell's heroics, Brock Stull posted a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds. Cody Wichmann added 10 points and seven rebounds, as the Panthers finished the game at 56.8 percent (25-of-44) from the floor as a team.
"We were focused mentally going into the game as a team," Bell said. "In the second half, we knew they were going to tighten up the pressure but we held our composure and played the game we knew how to play."
Brett Prahl also chipped in eight points, six rebounds, three blocks and three steals.
More importantly, the squad connected on 80 percent (28-of-35) of its free throws, after coming into the game shooting under 65 percent from the charity stripe.
"We haven't been a great foul-shooting team this season," Jordan said. "But we talked about the way to advance, at this point of the season, is you have to finish around the rim and you have to make free throws."
The defense was also clicking, holding Detroit Mercy to 34.4 percent (21-of-61) from the floor and outrebounding its opponent by a 40-26 count – its largest margin of the season. The 60 points was a season-low.
Corey Allen led the Titans with 18 points.
Up 14 at the break, Milwaukee went through a strange near-10 minutes of action on the court. In a span of 9:29 on the clock, the Panthers did not make a field goal (missing a pair of attempts), turned the ball over five times, yet still led by 13 on a 3 from Bell at the 10:31 mark that made the score 53-40.
Helped at the line by 11 makes in that span, UWM never let Detroit within striking distance. A 7-0 run by UDM had it within eight at 48-40, forcing a Milwaukee timeout.
The response was big. Bell's swished triple at the 10:31 mark came as the shot clock expired and a 6-0 spurt pushed the lead to 54-40.
A Wichmann 3 at the 6:50 mark extended the lead to 20 and a 13-0 scoring run gave the Panthers their biggest lead of the night at 74-47.
The Panthers played a brilliant first half, steadily building the lead to as many as 18 before settling on a 39-25 lead at intermission.
UDM made the first basket of the contest and then the Milwaukee defense did its job, holding the Titans without a field goal for the next four-plus minutes to grab leads of 9-2 and 13-5.
The shooting then turned red-hot, with the Panthers making nine field goals in a row at one point, leading by double-figures for the first time at 23-13 on a three-pointer by Bell at the 9:38 mark.
UWM kept its foot on the gas pedal, sinking 13 of 15 field goals at one point, using an 11-2 run to take its biggest lead of the period at 39-21 on a pair of Wichmann free throws. The team also outrebounded the opposition by a count of 22-9 in the first 20 minutes.
With the victory, the team advances to play again tomorrow, taking on the No. 2 seed Valparaiso in a game scheduled to start at 7 p.m. CST.