Tue. Final: UWM 77, Loyola 68
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Wisconsin-Milwaukee's best first half of the season couldn't have come at a better time.
Milwaukee dominated the first 20 minutes for a 35-17 halftime lead and then survived a fierce comeback by Loyola of Chicago Tuesday night to beat the Ramblers 77-68 in the first round of the Horizon League tournament.
"I thought our first half we played as well as we had all season," said Panthers coach Rob Jeter. "We played well as a team, as a group."
Milwaukee extended the lead early in the second half to 44-19 on a Deonte Roberts basket. The Ramblers battled back to within seven points four times late in the game but could get no closer.
Milwaukee native J.R. Blount of the Ramblers scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half to lead the comeback. Blount had baskets three times to pull Loyola within seven points.
"We played hard all the way through," said Blount. "I'm proud of our guys."
James Eayrs scored 20 points and Ricky Franklin 18 for Milwaukee (17-13, 12-7), which moves on in the tourney to play Wright State Friday in a second-round game in Indianapolis. Wright State beat Valparaiso Tuesday night 68-56.
Milwaukee's victory was revenge against the team that defeated it in first-round games the last two seasons.
"It feels real good," Franklin said. "The last couple of years we were put out the first round, so I'm real excited."
Franklin also said he and his teammates were prepared for a second-half Loyola run.
"I wasn't worried," Franklin said. "We know teams have to make a run. We just stayed together and finished the game out."
Jordan Hicks also had 20 points for the Ramblers (14-18, 6-13) and Walt Gibler 14.
The Panthers had to scrap at the end to win because of Blount and Gibler, who scored all of his points in the second half. The Ramblers steadily erased Milwaukee's big lead but the Panthers made key free throws down the stretch to hold on, including a pair by Eayrs and Roberts in the final 30 seconds.
"We just did what we had to do to get it done, to pull out a victory," said Jeter.
Loyola coach Jim Whitesell said one difference was the intensity with which Milwaukee opened the game.
"The first half, obviously, they were aggressive," he said. "We could never get into a rhythm."
Blount, who was cheered loudly in his return to his hometown, downplayed his heroics, claiming his offensive outburst was due to his teammates.
"It was my teammates getting me the ball in spots where I could execute," said Blount.
His big second half meant that he had scored in double digits in all 10 games in which he played against his hometown team.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)