Friday night saw both lower seeds advance in the opening round of Motor City Madness. Both winners had surprising players turn in career performances on their way to victory. Here is how the night played out and what lies ahead:
(10) Milwaukee 85 - (7) Detroit 60
Milwaukee shook off some early rust to storm out to a lead. The Panthers essentially dominated all aspects of the game in the first half. They shot a scalding hot 57 percent in the half and outrebounded Detroit 22-9. Milwaukee also outscored Detroit 26-12 in the paint during the half.
The second half was more of the same. Detroit tried to crank up the defensive pressure at the beginning of the half and were able to cut the lead to single digits a few times. But, Jeremiah Bell took over for Milwaukee from there. Bell finished the game with a career high 31 points on 9-of-10 shooting all coming off the bench. Brock Stull also added 20 points and 11 rebounds to the Panther cause.
As for the end of game totals, Milwaukee kept up their hot shooting from the first half and finished with a 56.8 shooting percentage. Their dominance of the glass also continued, with a 40-26 advantage at the final buzzer. They also took advantage of a vast free throw disparity, connecting on 28 free throws while Detroit only ever attempted 19. As Detroit head coach Bacari Alexander remarked post game, “there is no defense for free throws.”
A bright spot for Detroit was the performance from Corey Allen. The Horizon League Freshman of the Year scored 18 points. He will be a key piece for Detroit as they look toward next season.
Milwaukee advances to play Valparaiso Saturday evening. The big story of that game will, of course, be how the second seeded Crusaders deal with the absence of Horizon League Player of the Year Alec Peters. Milwaukee gave the Crusaders a tough test when the two met in Valparaiso on February 21st. Keep your eye on that game as a potential early upset.
(9) Youngstown State 84 - (8) Cleveland State 69
The two teams split their regular season meetings and appeared evenly matched through the first half. Cleveland State took a 37-33 lead into halftime, led by nine points from Rob Edwards. Youngstown State’s Cameron Morse, the league’s leading scorer during conference play, struggled in the half going just 1-of-4 from the floor. But, Matt Donlan and Braun Hartfield filled in with 12 and 11 points respectively. The two combined to go 5-of-7 from three in the half.
The game remained close for much of the second half as well. With just four minutes remaining, Youngstown State led by just two points. However, over the game’s final four minutes, the Penguins went on a 17-4 run to ice the game. Donlan finished the game as Youngstown State’s leading scorer with 24 points while Hartfield finished with a career high 22 points. Without much scoring coming from the usual source, Morse, the contributions of those two proved to be key.
Jorden Kaufman also played a pivotal role in the Penguin victory. In his post game remarks, head coach Jerry Slocum said he had told Kaufman that “this tournament was going to be a double-double for him” earlier in the week. Those words proved prophetic tonight, as Kaufman turned in 15 points and 11 rebounds. He also only picked up one foul, allowing him to anchor the post for 35 minutes.
Youngstown State advances to play Oakland at 5:30PM ET on Saturday night. The Golden Grizzlies dominated the season series against the Penguins. Youngstown State will have a lot to overcome if they want to take down the conference’s top seed. Especially given that they have less than 24 hours to prepare, a fact that Coach Slocum lamented at the end of his press conference.
Cleveland State, on the other hand, was a one man show on offense Friday night. Edwards finished the night with 27 points and 7 rebounds. The Vikings loss brings an end to another season of struggles. After competing near the top of the league for many years, the last two seasons have been rough in Cleveland. It has even led to some speculation that this year may have been coach Gary Waters’ last in Cleveland. Whether or not that is the truth remains to be seen.