2004-05 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 2004-05-team-photo


It was simply a magical postseason run, and ironically it nearly never happened. Fans will remember the 2004-05 Panthers making their run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, and many will also remember sitting in the U.S. Cellular Arena, with the clock running down, and the Panthers on the short end of the score.


Milwaukee would rally against Detroit in that league title game. Joah Tucker hit two free throws with under a minute left to tie the game, and Adrian Tigert then hit a single free throw with 4.2 seconds remaining to grab the lead. After Detroit missed a shot as the buzzer sounded, the Panthers had survived and were on to the NCAA Tournament.


It was a fitting way to continue one of the best seasons in school history. That was Milwaukee’s 24th win – tying a school record at the time – and the Panthers would wind up with 26. They claimed a win over Purdue – their first over a Big Ten foe since 1993. They won 11-straight games late in the year, and won 19 of their last 21 contests.


In league play, Milwaukee lost only twice – an early-season home loss to Detroit and a road loss at in-state rival Green Bay. The Panthers won their final six regular season league contests by an average of 13.7 points. Ed McCants earned Horizon League Player of the Year honors and was joined by Joah Tucker on the all-league first team. Tucker was then named the league tournament MVP. But, after winning the league tournament, the Panthers eagerly awaited their destination and opponent for the NCAA Tournament. When the draw was announced on CBS, the Panthers were one of the first teams posted. It was on to Cleveland and a first-round date with Alabama.


Milwaukee’s game with Alabama was the first of the day in Cleveland, and it was clear from the start the Panthers weren’t planning to be the first team eliminated from the tournament. They used a 23-6 run in the first half to build a 13-point halftime lead. Then, every time the Crimson Tide made a run in the second half, Milwaukee responded. The Panthers wound up forcing 19 turnovers and, when Ed McCants scored on a breakaway dunk in the final minute, Milwaukee knew it was advancing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.

Game two sent the Panthers against Big East champion Boston College, a team that had been ranked as high as second in the nation earlier in the season. BC threw the first punch, scoring the first 11 points of the game. But Milwaukee recovered, building a four-point lead by halftime and then making key baskets throughout the second half. The Panthers’ defense also came through, forcing 22 turnovers. And, Milwaukee made its free throws when it counted, converting on 20-of-22 charity attempts. The win made the Panthers the biggest story in the city of Milwaukee and, for that matter, across the college basketball world.

Adding to the story was the fact that Milwaukee’s next opponent was Illinois, the top-ranked team in the country. And, the game would be played just down the road from Milwaukee – in Illinois. Those factors, and a long-simmering rivalry between Illinois fans and Milwaukee head coach Bruce Pearl, made the days leading up to the matchup a media circus.

Once gameday finally arrived, the Panthers held their own with a team that would wind up being the national runner-up. Milwaukee was within three points late in the first half and still within nine points at the four-minute timeout in the second half. But, in the end, even a career-high 32 points from Joah Tucker wouldn’t be enough to keep the Panthers’ upset run in the postseason alive.


Michael Bendall Boo Davis Derrick Ford Nick Hansen Allan Hanson Chris Hill Steve Hoelzel Luke Homan
Ed McCants Jason McCoy Myles McKay Mark Pancratz Rob Sanders Adrian Tigert Joah Tucker Derrick Wimmer James Wright