After one last valiant effort, the Panthers’ season is over.
Five players reached double figures and Villanova broke open a close game over the final eight minutes of the contest en route to a 73-53 win over the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Thursday night at the First Niagara Center.
The Panthers (21-14), seeded 15th, led by as many as five points in the first half and were still within four points with 13 minutes to play before Villanova’s depth and pressure took its toll.
Austin Arians had 17 points to lead Milwaukee, which shot less than 29 percent for the game and made just one of its final 14 shots from three-point range.
Darrun Hilliams had 16 point to lead the Wildcats, who shot 62 percent in the second half after hitting on just 30 percent in the first 20 minutes.
The loss brings an amazing three-week run by the Panthers to a close. Milwaukee had won five-straight entering the tournament, having won its final regular season contest on the road before winning four times in the Horizon League Tournament.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my teammates for what they’ve done this season,” senior Jordan Aaron said. “We fought through everything possible we could this season to get to this point, and I can’t be more proud of them for the effort they gave out there tonight and what we’ve done this whole season. We went through a lot of ups and downs together, and I will never forget this moment and this team, being a part of this team.”
“This experience was unbelievable,” Arians said. “We were picked to finish last in the preseason poll, and we ended up winning the conference tournament and getting the chance to come here, which was unbelievable. Every guy on this team has stepped up at some point during the year. I can’t give enough credit to every single person on this team. Everybody had their moments and had a great time doing what we accomplished this year. It was awesome.
Milwaukee could never get Horizon League Player of the Year Jordan Aaron on track. Aaron made just 1-of-15 from the field though did still wind up with six points, six rebounds and five assists.
“I’ve just got to credit Villanova. They did a great job of keeping me off balance and just staying into me,” Aaron said. “A lot of shots I took just didn’t fall for me tonight, and you just got to go with what happens out there. But you’ve got to credit Villanova, they did a great job on defense.”
The Panthers recovered from a slow start to grab a first-half lead. Villanova scored the first six points and Milwaukee missed its first six shots. But, Malcolm Moore and J.J. Panoske helped provide a spark off the bench, as Moore’s basket brought the Panthers within two before five-straight from Panoske gave Milwaukee a 13-10 lead with 7:56 remaining.
After Villanova reclaimed a 16-15 advantage, Arians answered with back-to-back threes for a 21-16 Milwaukee. The lead was still 23-18 after a Matt Tiby basket with 4:03 left, but the Panthers went quiet from there.
Milwaukee wasn’t ready to go away, though, as a layin from Arians pulled the Panthers to within 34-29 with 15:55 left. UWM then eventually pulled within 37-33 on an Arians jumper with 13:13 to play but would never be able to get any closer.
In fact, Villanova countered quickly with nine of the next 10 points for a 46-34 lead and the Panthers had to play catch up the rest of the night. Milwaukee did crawl back to within 48-41 on a pair of Tiby free throws with 8:52 left and was still within 55-46 on a Kyle Kelm basket with 6:55 remaining, but Milwaukee could never get over the hump from there.