Balanced effort leads UW-Milwaukee past UW-Green Bay in Horizon League opener

UW-Milwaukee forward Ahmad Rand (23) blocks a shot by Boston University forward Nevin Zink during their game Nov. 27. Rand led the Panthers with 13 points Thursday against UW-Green Bay.
UW-Milwaukee forward Ahmad Rand (23) blocks a shot by Boston University forward Nevin Zink during their game Nov. 27. Rand led the Panthers with 13 points Thursday against UW-Green Bay.

Bart Lundy's first taste of UW-Milwaukee's in-state rivalry with Horizon League opponent UW-Green Bay was awfully sweet.

The Panthers had five players finish with double-digit points and shot 54.5% en route to a convincing 81-67 victory over the Phoenix in the teams' conference lid-lifter at the Resch Center on Thursday night.

Ahmad Rand led the way with 13 points, Markeith Browning II and Jalen Johnson scored 12, Justin Thomas 11 and Keon Edwards had 10 as UWM (6-3) won its fourth game in a six-day span.

UWGB, meanwhile, fell to 0-7 in dropping its fifth straight game to the Panthers.

Box score:UWM 81, UWGB 67

Eleven players scored for UWM, which opened a double-digit lead by halftime, shot 50% or better from the field for the third time in four games and set a new season high by hitting 15 of 17 free throws (88.2%).

Runs of 12-0 and 11-1 midway through the second half helped put the game away.

The Panthers also did a better job of taking care of the basketball by committing 13 turnovers for the second time in three games.

"Good win," Lundy said. "Anytime you can get a road win, it's a good win. We got a lot of contributions from a lot of guys. We came out a little sluggish and a lot of guys came off the bench and gave us a good spark -- Jalen Johnson, Keon Edwards, Moses (Bol) was really good.

"Then Ahmad Rand was an absolute monster in the second half."

UWM will seek to make it five straight victories and a 2-0 start in the Horizon League when it hosts IUPUI at 7 p.m. Saturday at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.

Here are three takeaways from the night, which also included the UWM women beating UWGB in Milwaukee:

Ahmad Rand can be a force for Panthers

Lundy was very high on the impact Rand, a 6-foot-8 senior transfer from Oregon State, could make coming into the season.

After nine games, Rand is proving his coach correct -- and then some.

The senior forward played only 15 minutes against UWGB but still managed to lead the Panthers in scoring, rebounding (six) and blocked shots (four), giving the overmatched Phoenix all it could handle and more in the lane.

Rand hit 6 of 8 shots -- including three more highlight-reel dunks -- to up his field-goal percentage to a ridiculous 74% for the season (37 for 50) and his scoring average to 9.7, good for second on the team.

He also ranks third in rebounding at 3.9 and is blocking 2.2 shots per game despite averaging just 15 minutes per game.

"He's doing it on both ends but really, his biggest impact is defensively," Lundy said. "Between he and (7-1) Moses in the first half, Green Bay got really skittish about going to the rim, and I thought that helped us pressure them a little more on the perimeter.

"I'm trying to get them more minutes as I figure out the rotation. I've got to play Jalen and Moses and Ahmad, two of them together at times. Ahmad needs more than 15 minutes, that's for sure."

Rand also provided the play of the game when, with 7 minutes 21 seconds remaining, he took an alley-oop pass from Kentrell Pullian in the lane, leaned in and then slammed it through the rim while being fouled.

He then knocked down the free throw to complete the three-point play.

UWM's Jalen Johnson helps turn the tide

Whereas much of Rand's game is spectacular and based on his freaky leaping ability, junior forward Jalen Johnson's is more reminiscent of what you might see in a noon pickup game at the YMCA.

He measures 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds, but the bulk of his game is based on deft moves in the lane as he utilizes both hands well and excels on short jump hooks and putbacks.

Johnson played three seasons at Alabama A&M before transferring to UWM, averaging 16 points on 47.2% shooting and pulling down 7.3 rebounds in 2021-22.

"Savvy, has great hands, makes free throws," is how Lundy described Johnson's game. He's averaging 8.1 points on 50% shooting and 2.3 rebounds in 13.9 minutes per game so far this season.

And he's done all his damage off the bench as the only player of Lundy's top eight who is yet to make a start.

"He's a tough kid. And with his build you wouldn't think he's a good defender. But he's a really good defender -- he just understands angles and when to help, how much to help. He's been really good for us.

"Moses has been awesome too. He affects everything. He had a good game tonight and he needs minutes, too. A lot to figure out."

UWM women make it a clean sweep

Megan Walstad scored a game-high 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds and Emma Wittmershaus added 14 points and a game-high 11 rebounds to lead UWM's women's team to a big 59-52 conference-opening victory over UW-Green Bay at the Klotsche Center.

It marks the fifth time in the last seven meetings between the two teams that the Panthers (3-4) have been able to prevail over the longtime Horizon League power in the Phoenix (3-3).

UWM outscored UWGB, 13-0, over the final 5:28 and limited the Phoenix to only three points in the fourth quarter.

UWM has now won two straight after dropping three in a row. The Panthers outlasted Boise State in overtime, 55-54, in their previous outing at the Nevada Nugget Classic on Sunday.

"I think the biggest word for us now is confidence," said UWM coach Kyle Rechlicz. "It's not that we've been playing poorly; we just haven't been hitting shots -- a lot of open opportunities, both around the rim and at the three-point line. So, it was great to see our post players step up huge tonight from that perspective.

"But for it to be the conference opener, to be back at home again -- we had played four straight on the road -- it was nice. We had been shooting better at home, so it was great to be able to get back to our home gym and know we can hit shots there and also have a really good defensive game plan."

The Panthers limited the Phoenix to 36.7% shooting and committed only nine fouls in 40 minutes, resulting in just three free-throw attempts by UWGB compared to UWM's 11-for-14 effort.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Balanced effort leads UW-Milwaukee in Horizon opener against UWGB