Milwaukee, WI – With only the top eight teams in the ten-school Horizon League advancing to the post-season tournament, both seventh place Detroit Mercy and ninth place Milwaukee had a lot to play for when the two schools hooked up in Milwaukee on Thursday night. Led by high-scoring freshman guard Antoine Davis, Detroit Mercy outlasted Milwaukee 90-84 to strengthen its playoff positioning and in the process sweep both games of the season series from the Panthers. The victory evened the Detroit Mercy’s conference record at 7-7 while Milwaukee lost its sixth straight conference game to see its conference mark fall to 4-9.
Davis entered the game as the nation’s second leading scorer with a 26.7 point per game average. Standing 6-1 with a willowy frame similar to a shorter version of NBA veteran Jamal Crawford, Davis is a ball-dominant scorer with range well beyond the three-point arc. With a combustible game that lends itself to scoring in bunches, Davis connected on 8 of 20 shots including 5 of 12 from distance in scoring a team-high 27 points. A right-hand dominant player, Davis likes to drive the ball to his right scoring primarily off the dribble and shooting about as accurately off-balance fading on his shot as he does on-balance with his feet set.
In the first season match-up of the schools, Davis scored 32 points–all in the second half–in leading Detroit Mercy to a 93-84 win in Detroit. Hoping to slow Davis down in the rematch, Milwaukee Coach Pat Baldwin assigned DeAndre Abram, a lean junior wing with long arms, to guard Davis. “We wanted to have some length on him, and DeAndre is 6-8 with a long wing span,” said Baldwin. “We wanted to make him take hard, contested shots. He was 8 for 20 and we would take that any day of the week. We wanted to have two players on him in ball screens. We didn’t want the other guys to get going and that didn’t happen tonight.”
Davis got strong scoring help from teammates Josh McFolley, Harrison Curry and Derrien King, all of whom cracked the double-digit scoring mark. McFolley, a 6-1 senior and easily the Detroit Mercy player with the most experience in a Titans uniform, is a left-handed shooter with a funky release. But he knocked down his first two shots, one from each corner and both from behind the arc. He made 6 of 13 shots on the night, knocked down 7 of 8 free throws and finished with 22 points. Curry, a 6-7 junior big with broad shoulders and a strong trunk, converted 9 of 10 free throws in scoring 15 points. Playing off the bench, the 6-7 senior King did his work from the perimeter where he made five jump shots, all off the catch, in scoring 12 points, 10 in the second half. “I thought King hit some really big baskets,” said Baldwin.
Davis, who originally signed with Houston last year, is the son of veteran Detroit Coach Mike Davis, a four-year player at Alabama before embarking on a coaching career that started at Indiana, continued to Alabama-Birmingham and went on to Texas Southern. He took the Detroit job this past summer and finding only three letter winners among his returning players, had to hit the summer recruiting trail hard to find players for the upcoming season, never an easy task. Davis is hoping to do at Detroit what he did at his first three coaching stops, namely, take his team to the NCAA tournament. Davis has taken his three previous schools to nine different NCAA tournaments, his most famous trip coming in the 2001-02 season when he led Indiana to the national championship game only to be denied the title by a Gary Williams coached Maryland team.
Inspired perhaps by the one-day thaw in the Milwaukee winter, the Panthers warmed up quickly from the field in the first half to shoot almost 59 percent and played mostly from ahead in taking a 46-44 lead into intermission. When he wasn’t chasing Davis around off-ball screens, attempting to limit penetrating drives and contesting three-point jumpers, Abram was scorching the nets in the first half. Putting his three-level scoring ability on display, Abram knocked down 8 of 9 shots including all three of his three-point attempts in scoring 21 first-half points. His five first half rebounds also led both teams.
Detroit played a different type of match-up zone defense that concentrated on defending the wing areas. But few defenses can take everything away from an offense, and in Detroit’s case, the Titans’ zone left areas from elbow to elbow and in both short corners either lightly or mostly unguarded. Abram and his teammates did an excellent job of exploiting those soft spots in the Detroit zone in scoring 46 first-half points.
Davis made two adjustments to the Detroit defense in the second half. First, he extended the zone to three-quarters court after made baskets to slow down the Panthers. Secondly, the Titans defended with more energy in the second half, getting quicker to shooters to allow fewer open looks than they did in the first 20 minutes. Baldwin noted a third change. “They were a little more conscious of the elbows in the second half,” he said. “Credit to them for making that adjustment. We didn’t shoot it like we wanted to in the second half.” After connecting on close to 59 percent of their shots in the first half, the Panthers made only 41 percent in the second half.
Milwaukee lost despite making 10 more field goals than Detroit. The Titans compensated for coming up on the short end in the field goal battle at the free throw line where they not only made more free throws than the Panthers attempted, they made well over two and a half times as many free throws (31) as Milwaukee attempted (12.) “I thought the free throw line was the greatest difference in the game,” said Baldwin. “Our number one priority is not putting them (opponents) at the free throw line. We have to stop fouling and giving them free points.”
Detroit snapped a three-game losing skid of its own with the victory, and continues a five-game road swing at Green Bay on February 16. Milwaukee also returns to play on February 16 when it hosts Oakland.