“We got another game to play,” Drew McDonald said after finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds. “I got the chills just thinking about it.”
Jim McMillan, the first recruit for the school’s inaugural basketball team that debuted during the 1971-72 season, waited in a long line to congratulate Northern Kentucky coach John Brannen on the court after the game below the banner-filled rafters at the home of the Detroit Red Wings.
“Thank you! Thank you!” McMillan told Brannen after giving him a hug. “I’ve been waiting 35 years for this.”
Tenth-seeded Milwaukee (11-24) was a win away from having the most losses in NCAA Tournament history, which has had three 20-loss teams in its history: Cal Poly (2014), Liberty (2013) and Coppin State (2008).
“I think it was an inspiration,” Panthers coach LaVall Jordan said. “I know for people in the Milwaukee community, our university and our city, it inspired a lot of belief when you are down and nobody thinks you can.”
Brock Stull scored 19 points and Brett Prahl had 12 for the Panthers, who won nine in a row, including three in the tournament, before their run ended against Northern Kentucky.
The Norse were in control for much of the game, which had only one tie and one lead change, but they couldn’t pull away from the pesky Panthers.
Milwaukee pulled within three points with 1:11 and 32 seconds left, but McDonald made a jumper and Holland made a free throw on the ensuing possessions to keep a relatively comfortable cushion.
By making the NCAA Tournament, the Norse have made this a special season and any success they have in the NCAA Tournament will be a bonus for the program.
Holland was voted MVP and was joined on the all-tournament team by McDonald, Stull, Prahl and Youngstown State’s Cameron Morse.
The Norse will have a chance to celebrate for the rest of the week before finding out Sunday where they’re seeded in the NCAA Tournament, where they will likely be a low seed and a big underdog.
“We’ll be prepared to compete,” Brannen said.