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Season ends for Phoenix men

pheonixmen

Photo by Cheyenne Makinia/Fourth Estate

Senior Alec Brown checks out of his final game with the Green Bay Phoenix as coaches and teammates look on March 18 at the Resch Center.

Marques Eversoll , Sports Editor
March 25, 2014
Filed under Sports, Top Stories

Without its point guard and Horizon League Player of the Year, Keifer Sykes, the UW-Green Bay men’s basketball team fell to the Belmont Bruins 80-65 in a first-round National Invitation Tournament matchup March 18 at the Resch Center.

Phoenix head coach Brian Wardle said the team didn’t know Sykes would be out until after the shootaround just hours before tipoff. Freshman Tevin Findlay stepped in for Sykes in the starting lineup, but the Phoenix struggled without its floor leader.

“Turnovers are the story of the game,” Wardle said. “Just too many turnovers against a very good team. You turn it over 21 times and give up 23 points off turnovers against a high-scoring team like this, you’re going to have a hard time winning.”

Belmont used its extra opportunities provided by Green Bay’s 14 first-half turnovers and built a 35-20 lead with just more than six minutes remaining in the half. The Phoenix battled back and went on a 13-2 run to pull within four, but Belmont always seemed to have an answer.

The Phoenix turned to Sykes to get the team back on track often this season. But several nagging injuries forced the junior to watch the game from the bench in street clothes.

“We did our best with Keifer Sykes all week to get him back,” Wardle said. “We thought we were gonna have a great chance to get him back for tonight, but it just wasn’t happening … That was a new experience for us tonight. We haven’t had that all year, our leader and our point guard out.”

The Bruins took a 12-point advantage into the locker room, leading 49-37. The Phoenix shot 58 percent in the first half, but Belmont capitalized on Green Bay’s mistakes, scoring 17 first-half points off turnovers.

Early in the second half, the Phoenix set two individual records. With 17:45 remaining, senior Alec Brown tied the Horizon League career record with his 309th blocked shot. Shortly thereafter, sophomore Jordan Fouse broke Terry Evans’ single-season steals record.

But four minutes into the half, Belmont had built a 19-point lead.

Green Bay methodically chipped away at the Bruins’ lead and got the deficit down to 10 after a layup by freshman Kenneth Lowe capped off an 11-2 run. But again, Belmont stopped the bleeding thanks to a bucket by Milwaukee, Wis. native Drew Windler.

“Every time I thought we made a good push, we either had a bad turnover or we gave up a drive-and-kick three,” Wardle said. “Give them a lot of credit.”

Still, things got interesting in the final minutes. Fouse hit one of two free throws to pull the Phoenix within seven points with 1:56 remaining.

But on the ensuing possession, Windler again crushed Green Bay’s hopes, delivering a dagger in the form of a deep triple to put Belmont up 10. Green Bay sophomore Carrington Love missed a three on the ensuing possession, and Bradshaw added a pair of free throws to get Belmont’s lead back up to 12.

Bradshaw set a new career high with 25 points before he fouled out with 48.9 seconds remaining.

“We got beat by a good team tonight,” Wardle said. “Belmont is very good. We knew that going in. They kind of did what we thought they’d do, and that’s just really drive-and-kick us and look for the three-point shot.”

In the final minute, Brown walked off the Resch Center court for the final time. The home crowd gave the senior a standing ovation following his record-breaking four-year career with the Phoenix.

“It’s tough having such a good season, and then, you know, losing a couple at the end of the year like this,” Brown said. “I mean, like I was just telling the team, I was really proud of them all and I was really thankful for giving me such a great senior year.”

Green Bay finished the season 24-7, which is the program’s highest win total since the 1995-96 season in head coach Mike Heidedman’s first season.

But a one-and-done in the N.I.T. will surely leave this year’s team with thoughts of what might have been.

“We never got to coach this team at full strength,” Wardle said. “That’s the one thing I wish we could have. With Alfonzo McKinnie 100 percent, you know, and Alec with his shoulder, unfortunately, and then Keifer, I mean that’s not an excuse. We still did great things.”

Green Bay won the regular-season title with a 14-2 conference record, but the Horizon League’s automatic tournament bid went to Milwaukee by way of the conference tournament championship. Milwaukee defeated No. 1 seed Green Bay in overtime March 8 at the Resch Center.

“We just all wish we could keep playing,” Wardle said. “I think it’s more of a locker room full of shock right now.”