UW-Milwaukee came into Saturday afternoon badly in need of a feel-good performance.
IUPUI, as it turned out, was more than happy to oblige.
The Jaguars entered without a victory this season against a Division I opponent and played like it for 40 minutes against the Panthers, who delivered their best game in some time in cruising to a 89-54 drubbing at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
Box score: UW-Milwaukee 89, IUPUI 54
UWM posted a season-high in points, its largest margin of victory (35 points) and its first game shooting 50% or better from the field (62.3).
The Panthers also finished a three-pointer shy (13) of tying its season high in that category while committing their fewest turnovers (11) since their season opener on Nov. 9.
"Give our guys credit. No matter what it was, they found holes," said coach Pat Baldwin, whose team never trailed. "And, going 13 for 25 (from three-point range) doesn't hurt, either.
"When you get up, you want to try to build on your lead and not let up. And our guys were consistent throughout the game."
UWM (6-12, 4-5 Horizon League) entered on a three-game losing streak that could be traced back mostly to long stretches of poor defense and a lack of ball security.
As bad as that stretch was, though, it paled in comparison to the struggles IUPUI (1-14, 0-6) has faced under first-year coach Matt Crenshaw, with the Jaguars' lone victory coming against Division III Spalding University just prior to Thanksgiving.
UWM and IUPUI squared off five times last season, with the Panthers winning four times. And, beginning with a Donovan Newby three-pointer 14 seconds into the game, it quickly became apparent the trend would continue in this one.
An 18-2 Panthers run turned a 7-7 game into a laugher quickly as UWM steadily grew its advantage to 38-25 by halftime.
Key in the first half was the play of junior forward Tafari Simms, who scored 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting in 14 minutes off the bench. He'd finish with a season-high 19 points in 25 minutes, hitting 7 of 9 shots while also pulling down five rebounds.
It was the type of positive impact he made early in Horizon League play last season, until injuries halted his momentum.
Simms scored 12 points in 25 minutes in UWM's previous game, so the 6-foot-7 forward is trending in the right direction for a team that could use a lift with Patrick Baldwin Jr. having missed his fourth straight game while he recovers from a left ankle injury.
"Tafari's one of our key guys, along with Josh (Thomas)," Baldwin said. "We've been hoping to get Tafari in rhythm because he can shoot from the perimeter, he can score from the post — he's kind of unorthodox with his moves and very similar to Josh in that way.
"This was a great opportunity to get Tafari in a rhythm. He's been healthy, which has been the thing that's probably bothered him the most. Happy to see that today."
UWM hit three straight threes out of the locker room to start the second half and the only question from there was how big the margin of victory would be at the end.
As it turned out, 11 of the 12 players who saw time scored for the Panthers — DeAndre Gholston's 21 points led all scorers — and the 62.3% effort from the field was the fifth-best in program history against a Division I opponent.
One of the other notables to come from the game was the performance of 7-foot-1 senior center Moses Bol, who produced a basket, seven rebounds and two blocked shots in a career-high 18 minutes off the bench behind starting center Joey St. Pierre.
"He hadn't played in two years, so each and every time he steps out onto the floor he gets more and more comfortable," said Baldwin. "Seven rebounds is great. He really stood tall when Joey got into some foul trouble.
"He had some blocks and rebounds, and that's what we ask of him. We know he's not a big offensive guy, but he keeps plays alive sometimes on the offensive end with tip-outs. But on the defensive end is where he makes his presence known."
The difficulty level will increase significantly in the coming week for UWM as it hosts Oakland and Detroit on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.
The Panthers were soundly thumped by both teams on the road last weekend.
UWM might not be far away from adding a little more backcourt depth in the form of freshman guard Markeith Browning II (broken right hand), who hasn't played since Nov. 24.
Junior center Samba Kane (toe sprain) remains out.
"Samba's still recuperating from his toe," said Baldwin. "Markeith has been cleared; now it's just the conditioning part and getting himself ready to go."
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: UW-Milwaukee sets multiple season highs in beating IUPUI