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|