How they respond

If there’s one thing that fans can take away from the loss at Michigan State on Wednesday, it’s this:

We’re about to find out how the Panthers respond to a loss.

The good news is that they didn’t have to do anything of the sort after the first four games, as they were all victories.  Sure, none of them were perfect performances (even the TSU game), but a win is a win and the Panthers could breath easy.

In their first performance against a legitimate deep tournament threat, the results were mixed.  Michigan State was stronger, faster, bigger, and more agile.  However, the Spartans only held a four point lead over Milwaukee at halftime.

Why was this?

The Panthers set out to impose their will on the Spartans, and the way they did that was by maximizing their performance in the three key areas – they limited MSU’s second-chance opportunities by collecting defensive rebounds, they got back on transition and didn’t allow the Spartans to get quick, easy baskets, and they shot the ball well enough to keep themselves in the game.

The problems for Milwaukee were apparent in the first half.  By racking up so many fouls, the personnel had to change many times during the half – it’s not good for a player to sit for much of the game and then be asked to score the second he gets in, you want him to “work up a sweat,” to quote Milwaukee assistant Duffy Conroy, and then get him some shots.  With the turnover of on-court personnel so quick and numerous, the Panthers had a lot of players taking shots when perhaps they weren’t quite ready to do so.  The other side of the fouling is that it takes your best defenders off the court, and Milwaukee was missing Ryan Allen and Kaylon Williams for important stretches of the second half.

In that second half, the Spartans hit the ground running while Milwaukee got left in the dust.  All it took was two minutes and the Panthers were on their heels, 43-30, after a nine-point run to open the half.

Part of this came from the fact that Michigan State made their shots.  In the 9-0 run, the Spartans were 4-of-5 from the field.  Milwaukee was 0-for-2 with two turnovers.  They got the things that Milwaukee held them out of in the first half – second-chance opportunities and transition scoring.  Before you could blink, the Panthers found themselves in a big hole on the road at a national elite program with not much space to breathe.

For the rest of the second half, however, the Panthers kept Michigan State in check.  Despite having four starters get four fouls and loading up the Spartans on free throws, Milwaukee never let the deficit get too far past 13 and that was where it settled at the end.

If Milwaukee hadn’t missed so many shots in the first half  (11-for-28 in the opening stanza), they could have had a tie or the lead coming out of halftime and might have had the confidence to keep pushing.  The fact that they didn’t, and again suffered from the poor play to open the second half, should be a cause of concern for the coaching staff heading into the rest of the season.  Perhaps it would have been better if Austin Thornton didn’t turn the ball over at the end of the first half, giving MSU the ball to open the second.

Tonight, the Panthers try to avoid a second consecutive loss as they take on the UALR Trojans in Little Rock, Arkansas at 7 p.m. central time.

The Trojans are 2-3 overall, going 1-1 against mutual opponents with Milwaukee.  Like Milwaukee, they beat IUPUI and lost to Michigan State.  The Trojans won by 5 at home over the Jags and lost by 22 at the Breslin Center. They have had since Sunday to prepare for this game, after which they play a rare second game against a non-conference opponent, going to Northwestern State on Tuesday.

UALR is led in scoring by 5’10”, 164 lb Chuck Guy at 11.6 points per contest this season.  The guard is a volume shooter who has a lot of trouble making baskets but makes up for this lack of shooting prowess by getting to the line and punishing opponents from there.  This season, Guy is 18 of 21 from the charity stripe, and 85% clip after shooting 80% a year ago.

In the post, the Trojans lack true size, much like Texas Southern.  UALR gets a solid 9 ppg from sophomore Will Neighbour, but he was extremely ineffective against bigger midwest teams in Eastern Michigan and Michigan State.

The Trojans as a team is only shooting 36.9% from the field, one of the worst percentages in the country and against similar opponents as Milwaukee.  The Panthers may consider a zone defense, but with the strong size advantage (UALR has height but not size), the Panthers should be able to own the paint.

We’ll see how the Panthers respond to the loss.