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Team Profile: 2006 BracketBuster Recap: Missouri State 72, Wisconsin-Milwaukee 63

by Kyle Winchester | February 18th, 2006

US Cellular Arena, Milwaukee, Wisc.

Early in the first half, he Missouri State Bears grabbed a 7-6 lead that they would not relinquish in their BracketBuster matchup at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Mo State never looked back en route to an important road victory.

Junior guard Blake Ahearn led the Bears with 18 points, and junior Nathan Bilyeu contributed 16 in the winning cause. Ahearn is now the career free-throw percentage leader in NCAA history, hitting 95% of his free throws.

Wisconsin-Milwaukee had five players in double figures, with Joah Tucker leading the team with 12 points.

As a team, Missouri State shot just 40% from the floor and 2 of 11 from three-point range. Furthermore, the Bears were out-rebounded by nine. Hitting 28-38 free throws and playing solid defense would prove to be the major difference, however.

Wisconsin-Milwaukee was held to 33% shooting, 4 of 21 from long distance. The Panthers also had 22 turnovers, as Missouri State was able to take advantage of its multi-guard sets and created mismatch problems for the home team. Mo State has now won six of its past seven games and is heating up at the right time to enter the discussion for a potential NCAA Tournament at-large berth.

Wisconsin-Milwaukee, however, has gone cold lately, losing four of its last six games.

The game itself was not pretty, as both teams’ shooting percentages reflect. When six threes find the mark out of thirty two attempts combined, it’s not a good sign for the game’s excitement level. The crowd of nearly 7,000 was a non-factor throughout much of the contest. It was not until the Panthers made a late run to pull within three points at 63-60 that the fans were encouraged to emit a sustained noise level. It was clear that playing without Adrian Tigert affected the rhythm of the Panthers offensively. His rebounding was also missed, as there were a plethora of missed shots for him and others to gobble up.

In the big picture, not much changed for Wisconsin-Milwaukee. As noted in the preview for this game, the Panthers have turned towards winning the Horizon League regular season crown to earn the top seed in the league tournament. Winning that tournament will be the only way the Panthers qualify for an NCAA berth and a chance to rekindle the magic of its Sweet 16 run from last season. Wright State and Butler will each serve as roadblocks for Wisconsin-Milwaukee, as UWM has split its regular season series with the both teams.

On the other side of the coin, Missouri St was the one Missouri Valley conference team entering the day that seemingly “had” to win its BracketBuster game. In all actuality, the Bears made a dramatic improvement in their resume with a quality late-season road win, and improved their RPI into the “lock” zone of sub-30.

The Bears have climbed out of nowhere in the last four weeks and are now looking pretty good for an at-large bid to the Big Dance. A home game to close of the regular season with Creighton looms before the start of the frenetic MVC tournament known as “Arch Madness.” The Bears certainly have a shot of winning this tournament, which would ease any worry come Selection Sunday. However, playing hot basketball down the stretch, combined with a solid RPI ranking, and the Mo State Bears have made a great argument to dance on the grandest stage come March.

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