After going in at halftime with only a four-point lead against a team picked to be one of the dregs of the Horizon League, the Milwaukee Panthers came out of the break firing to blow out the Loyola Ramblers, 59-41 in front of 3,517 fans at the U.S. Cellular Arena.
Milwaukee’s first-half problems had a lot to do with how they shot the ball; there were quite a bit of missed shots that allowed the Ramblers to keep it close, and the Panthers led 22-18 at halftime.
Perhaps a big reason the Panthers shot poorly was that they missed Ja’Rob McCallum in the lineup. McCallum, who had an injured wrist in the offseason, had the injury flare up on him and the team held him out as a precaution so as not to aggravate it further. The Panthers really missed McCallum’s high offensive rating (103.5) when they were forced to start Paris Gulley in his place.
Gulley, who started the SMSU game at point guard to start the season, started in the shooting guard slot and did not win anybody over with his play on offense tonight. Gulley had a rough night shooting the ball, going 0-for-5 from the field and registering only a turnover and two personal fouls in 17 minutes of play. Gulley did play his usual airtight defense, locking down Joe Crisman, who finished with six points despite coming in averaging over ten.
Still, the shooting guard rotation seems to have cleared up a bit. Evan Richard, who had a rough time last week, came out and did enough to warrant continued playing time. With McCallum out, Richard played 23 minutes and scored seven points on 2-of-5 shooting with a three pointer and two free throws. Richard also registered elsewhere, picking up three rebounds as well as an assist and a block without turning the ball over once.
Once the game got into the second half, the team’s shooting woes subsided and the Panthers grew a commanding lead gradually over the course of the half. Milwaukee got solid performances from Kyle Kelm (13 pts, 6 rbs, 2 blks, 6-for-7 FG) and Kaylon Williams (12 pts, 7 rbs, 7 asts, 3 stls, only 2 TO) to really blow the game wide open.
It seemed that Williams and Kelm have really started to grow a rapport with each other and it showed tonight. Kelm’s 6-of-7 from the floor came largely from Williams finding him down low for easy baskets. Because Kelm has been shooting the ball better from the outside as the season has gone on, and James Haarsma has all season, the Panthers were able to stretch out the Rambler defense and get a lot of nice inside looks. This really was where the Panthers broke the game open, scoring 34 points in the paint compared to Loyola’s 8.
The other good part about the game was the fact that the Panthers cut down on mistakes in a huge way. Their seven turnovers were the lowest they’ve had all season and the leader, point guard Kaylon Williams, only turned the ball over twice on a couple of passes where he drove and tried to do too much with it. Williams especially looked much better today, controlling the game in a way reminiscent of Jason Kidd. His assist to turnover ratio for the season has been boosted to 1.6.
All of this said and I haven’t even gotten to Ryan Allen, the senior wing guard who led the team with 14 points on 5-for-11 shooting with five rebounds and two blocks in 28 minutes of mistake-free basketball. Allen didn’t take the outside shots that Loyola gave him early in the game, but in a stretch in the second half he hit two long distance bombs that barely touched net, then hit both free throws he took with dead-eye accuracy.
Tony Meier returned tonight, playing 18 tough minutes as he scored three points and pulled down four rebounds while going 1-of-6 from the field. It was Meier’s first game action since the NIT game at Northwestern in March. Look for him to get better and help the team more as he gets over his leg injury.
The game wasn’t without its problems. The slow first-half start was troublesome, as was the continued mediocre shooting from the free throw line (7-for-14). Milwaukee could have really blown the game open if they had taken care of business in the first half. In the final five minutes, coach Rob Jeter took a few players out when instead of running the clock down, they pushed the tempo to try and get some points. After that, the Panthers’ “C” team played out the game. Milwaukee registered two trillionaires on the night in Christian Wolf and Quinton Gustavson (that’s 1 or more minutes played with no statistical implication on the box score).
Milwaukee turns its attention to struggling UIC on Saturday to hopefully go 2-0 to start the Horizon League season and get off to an impressive 7-1 start heading into the big hitters of the non-conference schedule.