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UWM-Manhattan Bracket Buster

February 23, 2004 Columns No Comments

Panthers drop third straight

by Nick Dettmann

MILWAUKEE – In his two-plus seasons as head coach of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers, Bruce Pearl has known nothing of losing. Now, his squad must find a way to get back on track after dropping their third straight game to Manhattan 83-76 on Saturday for ESPN Bracket Buster Saturday.

It is the first time that the Panthers have lost three games in a row during Pearl’s tenure at UWM. It is also just the second setback in the last 26 games at home. The other loss came against Southern Illinois on Nov. 29, a re-match of last year’s Bracket Buster game.

“We got outplayed by a good basketball team,” Pearl said. “We were not sharp early and we allowed them to control the ball game. I give Manhattan the credit for that, but at the same time we have to be accountable for ourselves.

“I don’t think we displayed toughness and I don’t think my players did. I thought they showed courage, heart and good character. But we weren’t tough.”

In the event for the second year in a row, the Panthers (17-9 overall) hosted the red-hot Jaspers (21-4) in front of a national television audience in hopes of impressing the NCAA committee.

“I thought it was a great victory for our team,” Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez said. “We talked about coming out on the road into somebody else’s house. We heard they had won 24 of 25 here and knew they were very tough to beat at home.

“We felt it had a lot of importance for us. We didn’t want to look at it that it was out of conference that it doesn’t matter. We felt that this was a big post-season game for us.

Pearl said, “According to Andy Katz, we were off the bubble before we even played the Youngstown game. We’ve lost three games since he said that. This game had nothing to do with the NCAA Tournament and an at-large for us.

“We went into this game with a couple of things in mind, one that we were playing against a good team. Let’s get it going against a good team and that’s going to send us off in a positive note into the tournament. I think we still see the light.”

For the first 4:55 of the game, it was a see-saw battle that many of the viewers were anticipating. But from there, Manhattan took control of the tempo of the game forcing UWM to play catch-up the rest of the way.

“We were told that a lot of committees were going to be watching this game,” Gonzalez said. “That’s why they set-up the Bracket Buster for.

“We’re a team from a good league that doesn’t get enough respect nationally. It was an important game for us and our league.”

After a pair of Adrian Tigert free throws for UWM, Manhattan reeled off a 10-0 run to stretch the lead to 23-10 with 11:26 remaining. Just minutes later, the Jaspers were off and running again as they went on a 10-4 run. Before they knew it, UWM was trailing 35-20 on their home floor in front of 4,752 fans.

“That was a big run,” Gonzalez said. “I thought we got a lot of moments out of people when we needed them. That was a real key stretch because I thought we wrestled control of the game in the main part of the game when the game was hanging in the balance.”

UWM would try to gain some momentum going into the half as Joah Tucker would hit a free throw to make it 44-35 with four seconds remaining. Then, Manhattan’s Peter Mulligan put a dagger through the Panthers hearts as he let go a 23-footer that bottomed out, giving the Jaspers a 47-35 lead.

“I was really proud of our guys,” Gonzalez said. “I thought we played tremendous in the first half. We took control of the game, we hung for about 30 or 35 minutes and kept the crowd out of it.

“We knew they would eventually make a run because we knew they were too good of a team of a team not to. We pretty much led wire to wire. We did the things we needed to win the game.”

The second half was reminiscent of the first as the Jaspers never led by less than by 10 for the first 15 minutes of the game. Manhattan would eventually build up a 21-point lead with 12:57 to go. UWM would slowly find anyway possible to chip away at the lead and with 3:59 to go in the game, they finally woke up and made it interesting late.

Coming out of a time-out, UWM’s Chris Hill hit a pair of free throws to make it a 72-59 lead for Manhattan. From that point, it was UWM’s turn to go out running. UWM went on 19-7 run in the next three minutes to bring the lead for the Jaspers down to 79-76 after a Dylan Page three-pointer with 33 seconds to go.

With under 20 seconds remaining, UWM was trailing 81-76 after a pair of Luis Flores free throws. The Panthers tried to get an open look and Manhattan did what they did all game long, play in their face defense and forcing the Panthers to take two ugly three-point attempts.

The first attempt was by Hill who missed the shot off the left rim. The rebound went to Tucker and he passed it off to Ed McCants and he missed the shot long. Flores captured the rebound with 14 seconds to go and got the ball up the floor to Mike Konovelchick who slammed it home to seal the victory.

Page led UWM scorers with 25 points and McCants had 20. Flores, who came in averaging 23.8 points per game, scored 27 points. He led four players in double figures for the Jaspers.


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