After waiting 107 years, the Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers wasted no time in qualifying for their first NCAA tournament.
The Panthers raced to a 21-4 lead and cruised past Butler, 69-52, last night in the Horizon League tournament championship at U.S. Cellular Arena, a 10-minute drive from the urban commuter school.
This was top-seeded Butler's sixth league title game in seven years and second-seeded Milwaukee's first in school history. But neither team played like it.
The Bulldogs fell behind 14-0 and never got closer than 12 points thereafter.
Clay Tucker scored 18 of his 23 points in the first half, leading the Panthers (24-7) to a 38-20 halftime advantage in front of a raucous crowd of 10,115 -- the largest in UWM history -- that harkened to the Al McGuire days when Marquette's glory teams played in the venerable, cozy arena.
The Bulldogs (25-5), who won the Horizon League's regular season crown, 76-74, over Milwaukee on freshman Avery Sheets's three-point buzzer-beater this month, will have to wait until Sunday to see if they get an at-large bid.
Ronnie Jones added 16 points for the Panthers, who equaled their school record for victories set in 1988-89, before the school joined the Division 1 ranks.
Darnell Archey led Butler with 14 points.
* MID-CONTINENT: Matt Crenshaw hit an 18-foot jumper with one second left, giving Indiana-Purdue-Indianapolis a 66-64 win over Valparaiso in the tournament final.
The Jaguars earned a berth in their first NCAA tournament in only their fifth season in Division I.
Josh Mullins led the second-seeded Jaguars (20-13) with 18 points and offset what could have been a crushing late turnover with a steal that sealed the win.
Top-seeded Valparaiso (20-10), which had won seven of the last eight Mid-Continent Conference tournaments, managed only six field goals in the final 10 minutes. But the Crusaders hit three baskets in the final 1:03 and forced a 64-64 tie when Raitis Grafs put back Stalin Ortiz's missed three-pointer with 10 seconds left.
* SUN BELT: Mike Wells had 18 points and 10 rebounds as Western Kentucky beat Middle Tennessee, 64-52, to earn an NCAA berth.
Patrick Sparks bounced back from a poor first half to score 12 points and hand out seven assists for the Hilltoppers (24-8). His five steals started the fast breaks that allowed Western Kentucky to pull away.
The Hilltoppers broke a 23-23 halftime tie with 7-0 and 11-2 runs to take a 43-29 lead with just more than 11 minutes left. The Blue Raiders (16-14) never recovered.