UWM 94, IUPUI 70: Tafari Simms explodes for 32 points off the bench as Panthers roll
Plan B turned out to be A-OK for Tafari Simms and the UW-Milwaukee Panthers.
Simms exploded for 32 points in 25 minutes off the bench and UWM turned in its highest-scoring regulation game in nearly five years with a 94-70 pasting of IUPUI at the Klotsche Center on Friday morning.
The Panthers were originally scheduled to host Detroit Mercy, only to have the teams' two-game series canceled Wednesday night due to positive COVID-19 tests within the Titans program.
But some quick behind-the-scenes maneuvering got the Jaguars — themselves otherwise looking at a canceled series with COVID-stricken Robert Morris — to Milwaukee, and Simms and the Panthers took advantage.
BOX SCORE:UW-Milwaukee 94, IUPUI 70
"I give credit to (athletic director) Amanda Braun, who worked the phones diligently. And, obviously, the league is involved in this," said UWM coach Pat Baldwin, whose team had played just once since Dec. 20 coming in. "We told our guys, 'You just have to be able to adjust on the fly and be flexible and be ready if the schedule has to shift.'
"Our guys were really great about the developments that took place a day and a half ago, and their preparation was really good. But this was one of just two days. We have to continue this leading into tomorrow."
There was no way to guess it would be Simms who would explode in this game.
The 6-foot-7 Canadian had totaled just 12 points through the Panthers' first five games, with his role primarily being an energy guy off the bench.
But by the time all was said and done, Simms had hit 10 of 13 shots — including 5 of 6 from beyond the arc — and grabbed six rebounds to log the best offensive game by a UWM player since Akeem Springs put up 33 points at Youngstown State on Jan. 7, 2016.
"When we recruited him, we felt he had some ability to score inside and out," Baldwin said of Simms, something of a basketball vagabond. He was born in Jamaica, raised in Hamilton, Ontario, played his freshman year at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and at Western Texas College last season.
"He just hadn't found his niche yet. But to Tafari's credit, he just continues to come in here early and get shots up and work on his game and watch film. And that's what it's all about — you never know when your opportunity's going to come.
"To continue to work and fight and not pout and not worry about touches or anything like that, I think it's a testament to him."
Simms had nearly matched his season total with 11 first-half points as UWM (4-2, 3-1) hit 7 of 12 three-pointers and led by as many as 13 points in the opening 20 minutes.
But by just after the first media timeout in the second half the Jaguars (1-3, 0-3) had opened a 52-51 lead.
Te'Jon Lucas scored four straight to get the Panthers back in front, and consecutive three-point plays by Simms and DeAndre Gholston made it 61-53.
Not long thereafter, UWM put the game out of reach with a 19-0 run underscored by 3 threes from Simms. He then capped the spurt with a pair of free throws.
"I'm comfortable with him shooting the three," Baldwin said. As a team, the Panthers hit 13 of 23 to set a season high for the second consecutive game.
"That was really good for him, to find his spot. But it wasn't just about him; it was about guys finding him, and he was aggressive when his opportunities came."
Gholston added 15 points and Lucas 14. The 94 points scored by the Panthers were the most in a regulation game since they scored 98 against Illinois-Chicago in a Horizon League tournament game on Feb. 28, 2016.
UWM played once again without starting forward Courtney Brown Jr., who is recovering from a toe injury. Freshman guard Kaleim Taylor has also missed the last two games while recovering from illness.
The Horizon League also announced Friday that no fans will be allowed at men's or women's basketball games through the remainder of the regular season.