One of college basketball’s most improbable stories is one win away from becoming reality. Because Tuesday night, UWM’s men’s basketball team will play for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The Panthers have reached the Horizon League Tournament finals thanks to Monday night’s 74-68 win over Illinois-Chicago at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. UWM faces Northern Kentucky at 6 p.m. Tuesday in a game broadcast on ESPN, and the winner secures the league’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
UWM, 11-23 overall and winners of only four regular-season Horizon League games, has now won three times in the Horizon League Tournament. The Panthers were the first No. 10 seed to ever win a game in this tournament, and are now poised to take their history-making to a whole new level.
“They’ve earned this. We’re not here by accident,” UWM coach LaVall Jordan said of his Panthers. “Our guys are playing like they’re supposed to play.”
Leading UWM’s charge Monday was Brock Stull, who finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Cody Wichmann, one of only two seniors on the team, and Brett Prahl added 15 points apiece.
While his Panthers celebrated their latest upset victory, broadcast nationwide on ESPNU, Jordan did a postgame interview with ESPNU’s announcing crew. They asked how his team could make this unlikely run, and his answer was simple. “Strong faith. Guys that have a strong belief in each other,” Jordan said. “Now, they’ve bought in, and we’ve formed a team.”
UWM trailed 8-4 early, then turned the tables with an 11-0 run for a 15-8 lead, only to see the Flames claw back and tie the game at 30-all a minute before halftime. But the Panthers, as they’ve done throughout the tournament, kept their cool and took a 34-30 lead into the break.
The Panthers built that lead as high as 10 points in the second half, but a resilient Flames team would not be extinguished, and tied the game at 61-all with 3:47 remaining. Again, the Panthers responded, scoring seven of the next nine points, including a clutch 3-pointer from August Haas. UIC got no closer than three points the rest of the way.
In addition to the win over the sixth-seeded Flames, UWM’s tourney hot streak includes wins over second-seeded Valparaiso and seventh-seeded Detroit.
The Panthers now turn their attention to Tuesday’s game against Northern Kentucky, which has a 23-10 record and is the tournament’s No. 4 seed. UWM split its two regular-season games against the Norse, winning 68-58 at home and losing the road game 69-63.
For more coverage, visit mkepanthers.com, the official website of UWM athletics.