Panthers come up just short in Horizon League finals

They came up one step shy of their immediate goal, but the Panthers took plenty of strides toward future ones.

UWM’s amazing run to the Horizon League Tournament finals ended with a 59-53 loss to Northern Kentucky Tuesday night at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. The Panthers, who earned national attention for their unprecedented success as a No. 10 seed, would’ve played in the NCAA Tournament had they won. Instead, they finished their season with a record of 11-24.

“It’s unfortunate that this is last time I get to say it this season, but I’m extremely proud of this group just for believing,” said UWM first-year head coach LaVall Jordan, whose team included only two seniors. “I think it was an inspiration to I don’t know how many people.”

The Panthers were the Horizon League’s first No. 10 seed to ever win a game, an 85-60 opening-round victory over seventh-seeded Detroit. They followed that with a 43-41 triumph over second-seeded Valparaiso, then knocked off No. 6 seed Illinois-Chicago 74-68 in the semifinals.

Against Northern Kentucky, the Panthers trailed for almost the entire game, their only lead coming after the game’s first basket. UWM was behind by as many as nine points in the first half, but trimmed that deficit to 31-28 by halftime and kept the pressure on Northern Kentucky throughout the second half.

In the game’s final 10 minutes, UWM never trailed by more than six points. Then, when Cody Wichmann’s 3-pointer with 1:12 left got the Panthers within 54-51, it looked like UWM might find a way to get the win.

But Northern Kentucky held off the late rally and secured a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

UWM was led by Brock Stull’s 19 points and Brett Prahl added 12 more for the Panthers. Both Stull and Prahl were named to the Horizon League All-Tournament Team.

Now the Panthers look to use their tournament experience as a foundation for better things next season. UWM counted two freshmen, a sophomore and a junior among its five starters Tuesday night. Two more freshmen and another sophomore came off the bench against Northern Kentucky.

“I couldn’t be more thankful for a first group to coach,” Jordan said. “It’ll be a challenge, to be honest with you, to get each group that follows this one to play as hard as these guys did this season, to love each other like these guys this season. But that’s what they’ve set in motion.”

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