Fighting to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive, the Green Bay men’s basketball team kicked off the Horizon League tournament against Milwaukee March 5 at the Resch Center.
The Phoenix shot 28.1 percent in the first half and led by six points at the break before a second-half explosion broke the game wide open. Junior Alec Brown led the team with 18 points.
“We were getting open shots,” Brown said. “We knew if we came out in the second half and kept playing our game, eventually shots would start to fall.”
Freshman forward Jordan Fouse paced the Phoenix with 12 points and 11 rebounds. After the game, Brown stressed Fouse’s importance to the team.
“Fouse is the most improved player I’ve seen coming in here,” Brown said. “It’s a lot of fun having another guy getting blocks out on the court when I can’t be there. He’s been fun to play with this year.”
Green Bay won all three meetings against Milwaukee this year, in which Brown scored a combined 69 points.
After advancing out of the first round, the Phoenix punched its ticket to Valparaiso to play the University of Illinois-Chicago. Green Bay split with UIC in the regular season, but the team remained confident as it headed to Valparaiso.
“We know we can beat anyone out there,” Fouse said. “We’ve beaten almost everyone in the conference. We know we can beat them — we just have to come out and play defense.”
Green Bay’s second-round matchup was a bit more competitive. The Phoenix led 34-29 at halftime, before the Flames battled back and took a late lead.
Senior guard Gary Talton hit a free throw to give UIC a 63-61 lead with seven seconds remaining. Fouse inbounded the ball to senior Brennan Cougill near half court, who then passed to sophomore point guard Keifer Sykes.
Sykes drove the ball into the lane, forcing Talton to help, leaving junior guard Sultan Muhammad open on the wing for a 3-point jumper. Muhammad hit the shot with 1.3 seconds on the clock, and the Phoenix won 64-63.
By defeating the Flames in round two, Green Bay advanced to face top-seeded Valparaiso in the semifinals. The Crusaders swept the regular-season series, defeating Green Bay by 12 points in Valparaiso and by 19 March 2 in Green Bay.
Entering the tournament, Valpo lost twice since Jan. 2. They finished the regular season with a conference record of 13-3, led by senior Ryan Broekhoff’s 15.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
Fellow senior Matt Kenney had perhaps his best game of the season at Green Bay’s expense in the regular-season finale, scoring 21 points without missing a field goal.
But in the Horizon League semifinals March 9, the Phoenix gave the Crusaders all they could handle, and the game was once again decided in the final seconds.
After the first half, Valparaiso led Green Bay 29-24. The Phoenix trailed the Crusaders at halftime in both regular-season games.
Sykes led Green Bay with a season-high 31 points, while Broekhoff led Valpo with 25.
In the regular-season finale at the Resch Center, the Phoenix limited Broekhoff to seven points, which was the second time all season he had been held to single digits. But the senior from Australia was too much for the Phoenix in the tournament, as he connected on five of nine shots behind the arc, including the shot that decided the game.
In a hotly contested second half, the Phoenix led 69-67 with 6.3 seconds remaining. Broekhoff caught the inbounds pass, dribbled up the court and searched for his shot.
Fouse halted Broekhoff’s progress between half court and the top of the key. After nearly losing the ball on a crossover, Broekhoff launched a desperate 3-point jumper from the right wing with Brennan Cougill’s hand in his face.
The shot found the bottom of the net and ended Green Bay’s season.
The Phoenix finished 18-15 on the season, narrowly missing the Horizon League finals. Cougill was the team’s lone senior, so the majority of the team will return next season.