Milwaukee, WI – Rebounding from a 93-54 loss to #5 ranked Wisconsin on Wednesday, Milwaukee jumped out to an early double-digit lead and never allowed Montana to whittle the lead under ten points in defeating the Grizzlies, 73-58 on Sunday night.
With the game moved from UWM Panther Arena in downtown Milwaukee to the on-campus Klotsche Center to accommodate mid-year Milwaukee graduation ceremonies at the UWM Panther Arena, balance was the keyword for Milwaukee as five Panthers scored in double figures. “When we have five guys score in double figures, it usually means good things for us,” said Milwaukee Coach Rob Jeter.
Springy two-guard R.J. Lyle led the Panthers with 16 points, but it was the play of bookend bigs J.J. Panoske and Matt Tiby that Jeter focused on in his post-game comments.
“We need J.J. to be the player he’s capable of being,” said Jeter. “I’m on him because I know he can do so much more for us.” Panoske had his way early on using his 6’10 frame to back down the shorter Montana post players, get to his sweet spots in the paint and use his soft touch to score eight of his ten points in the first half. “Coach (Jeter) talks about getting something going offensively early in the game,” said Panoske, a redshirt junior. “He’s on me more than other guys because I’ve been here for four years.”
Tiby, a rugged 6’8 with a soft shooting touch that belies his grinding style of play, connected on all three of his first-half shots from behind the three-point line to score nine points helping the Panthers to a 37-25 halftime lead. The junior from Urbandale, Iowa cooled off in the second half, but still finished with a double-double scoring 13 points and leading the Panthers with ten rebounds. “He (Tiby) makes a huge difference for us,” said Jeter. “We feed off his positive energy.”
The Panthers held Montana’s leading scorer Martin Breunig to eight points, almost ten points below his 17.5 ppg average. Battling foul trouble and playing only six minutes in the second half before fouling out with 9:40 left in the game, Breunig found time to showcase the athleticism and ball skills that earned him the preseason nod as Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year. Coming out of a first-half time out, Breunig found himself on the business end of a lob pass cutting from the right corner to the basket and soaring high above the rim to finish the play with an authoritative, one-hand slam dunk.
Breunig showcased his ballhandling skills corralling defensive rebounds and leading the Grizzlies’ fast break on the bounce and under control. His touches limited by an aggressive Milwaukee defense, which held Montana to 13 points below its season average, Breunig showed a quick transfer of ball from catch to release to beat the Milwaukee defenders scoring in the paint.
It was a homecoming of sorts for Breunig who grew up in Germany, but played his last year of high school basketball at St. John’s Northwest Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin, about 35 miles from the Milwaukee campus. He spent two mostly unremarkable seasons at Washington before transferring to Montana and sitting out the 2013-14 season due to NCAA transfer rules.
“Breunig was very impressive watching him on tape,”said Jeter. “We thought it might be a close game and didn’t want Breunig and (Jordon) Gregory on the court at the same time down the stretch.”
Fouls took Breunig out the game before the last minutes of the game could be played out, but Gregory actually came to life in the final ten minutes to keep Montana within some kind of reach. After going two for seven including zero for four from behind the three-point line in the first half in scoring four points, Gregory found his stroke in the second half to score 17 points and finish with 21. Converting shots off the bounce and catch, Gregory showed a drive game as well finishing at the rim with various release points with both his right and left hands.
While Milwaukee bigs Panoske and Tiby helped stake the Panthers to a first-half lead, Milwaukee guards Lyle, Steve McWhorter and Akeem Springs made sure the Panthers’ lead was never threatened in the second half. Lyle drained a corner three-point shot on the heels of a steal and flush to increase the Milwaukee second-half lead to 53-31, its largest of the game.
McWhorter, coming off for him a quiet game against Wisconsin where he scored six points, gave the Grizzles a feel for his skill set scoring 15 points, grabbing seven rebounds and leading all Panthers’ backcourt players with two assists.
Playing with an injured hand and coming off the bench after starting the first seven games of the season, Springs scored 14 points and drew the praise of Jeter. “He (Springs) was patient and played with great pace. Tonight he let the game come to him,” said Jeter. With possibly the best combination of strength and athleticism of any Milwaukee player, Springs augmented his drive game by making both his tries from distance.
The victory improved Milwaukee’s record to 5-6 as the Panthers take a six-day break for exams. “We’re defending Horizon League (tournament) champs,” reminded Jeter after the game. “Our character was tested after the Wisconsin game and this is a positive step in the right direction.”
The Panthers embark on a five-game road trip on December 20 playing at SIU Edwardsville. They will not return to play in Milwaukee until January 9 when intra-state rival and preseason Horizon League favorite Wisconsin-Green Bay provides the opposition. Montana fell to 3-6 and returns to Missoula to face South Dakota on December 21.
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