RECAP: Green Bay Returns to NCAA Tournament for First Time Since 1996 with 78-69 Win over Wright State

The Green Bay Phoenix came together during the Horizon League tournament, and their teamwork turned into a trip to the NCAA Tournament, the program's first since 1996. (Source: USA Today Sports)
The Green Bay Phoenix came together during the Horizon League tournament, and their teamwork turned into a trip to the NCAA Tournament, the program’s first since 1996. (Source: USA Today Sports)

Coming into the 2016 Horizon League Tournament, also known as Motor City Madness, the odds were heavily in favour of the top two seeds in the field. Both the Valparaiso Crusaders and the Oakland Golden Grizzlies received double byes, and were in the semi-finals.

The other teams had to win four games in four days to advance to the NCAA Tournament, and that’s exactly what one of them did.

In the semi-finals, the Crusaders were upset by the fourth-seed Green Bay Phoenix, while the Golden Grizzlies fell to the Wright State Raiders, setting up an unexpected final without the top two teams in the conference.

It may have been unexpected, but the Raiders and Phoenix were two of the top teams in the conference, and earned their spot in the finals. Only one would realize their dream of advancing to the NCAA Tournament and end their drought of appearing in the field of 68.

It had been 20 years since the Phoenix appeared in the NCAA Tournament, and their fans are rejoicing at seeing their team back in the bracket. Green Bay took down the Wright State Raiders on Tuesday night, 78-69, to earn their spot in the Big Dance with their fourth win in as many days.

It was a back-and-forth start to the game, as the teams traded baskets over the first three minutes. Kenneth Lowe hit a layup for the Phoenix at the 17:06 mark to tie the game at 6-all.

Lowe’s layup kicked off a 24-7 run that pushed Green Bay in front by 15, at 28-13. Jordan Fouse capped off the run with a layup with 8:28 to play in the opening half.

A quick 9-0 spurt for the Raiders made a big dent into the lead of the Phoenix, cutting the lead down to 6 in a little over 2 minutes. JT Yoho capped off the run with a three pointer. Green Bay would answer with a basket of their own, and the see-saw action would ensue once more.

Grant Benzinger and Trent Findlay traded three pointers to keep the lead at 8 in favour of the Phoenix. Green Bay would stretch their lead back to 12 before the half was out, thanks to two free throws from Lowe with 29 seconds left.

In the second half, both teams were held without a point for over two minutes before Wright State drew first blood on a three from Mark Hughes. Green Bay found the scoreboard on their next possession, using free throws from Charles Cooper to retake a double-digit lead.

Green Bay never trailed in the second half, and they stretched their lead to as many as 19 points on a pair of occasions. Wright State continued to fight, but they were never able to seriously threaten the lead of the Phoenix.

The Raiders weren’t able to cut the deficit down to single digits until it was too late. Joe Thomasson hit a three with 34 seconds left on the clock to bring the Raiders to within 9, but the writing was already on the wall.

After 20 years, the Green Bay Phoenix are on their way back to the NCAA Tournament after their 78-69 win over the Wright State Raiders.

Game Leaders

All five starters scored in double-figures for the Green Bay Phoenix, and six of the seven players who scored a point recorded at least 7 on the night. Jordan Fouse and Charles Cooper each scored 16 points, and Fouse added 8 rebounds.

Kenneth Lowe chipped in with 12 points and 6 rebounds, while Khalil Small registered 10 points and pulled in 8 rebounds.

Wright State put up a fight in the first half, but ran out of steam down the stretch and let an NCAA Tournament berth slip through their fingers. Joe Thomasson recorded a double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Michael Karena scored a team-high 14 points in the loss.

JT Yoho recorded 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists on the night.

Looking Ahead

Tuesday night’s triumph was the fourth straight, and eighth in the last nine games, for the Green Bay Phoenix (23-12, 11-7), who appear to be rolling at just the right time. Come Selection Sunday, a higher-ranked team will be nervous about having to face the Phoenix in the NCAA Tournament, as they are peaking at just the right time.

With the loss, the Wright State Raiders (22-13, 13-5) are left wondering what could have been. If things play out the way they should, the season is not over for the Raiders just yet, and they will find themselves in a post-season event later this month.

– T.B.

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