|Posted by Brian Dickmann on February 10, 2017 at 11:05 AM|
Photo via Green Bay Athletics
Five days after a dominant victory over Valparaiso at the Resch Center to get back into the Horizon League regular season championship race, the Green Bay Phoenix title hopes appear to be back on life support.
Green Bay (15-10, 9-4 Horizon) fell two games in the loss column behind the league leading Crusaders after a 69-67 loss at Northern Kentucky on Thursday night, the Phoenix first loss to the Norse in four all-time meetings.
Much like the first meeting between the two schools in Green Bay – an 80-71 Phoenix victory back on January 10th – Northern Kentucky built a significant lead early forcing GB to play catchup.
In that game, the Phoenix outscored NKU 48-29 in the second half to overcome a 15-point deficit but found themselves down by as many as 18 on Thursday night in the late stages of the first half before whittling the Norse advantage to 12 at halftime.
Green Bay committed 10 first half turnovers while shooting 42.3% from the floor, including just 2-10 from beyond the arc, while allowing the Norse to shoot 54.8% from the floor and drain 7 three pointers.
“We weren’t executing the way we needed to,” associate head coach Randall Herbst told WNFL radio after the game. “We weren’t taking care of the basketball, way too many turnovers.”
The second half was a different story, however, as the Phoenix mounted a comeback.
Green Bay was able to close the NKU lead to just two after Charles Cooper made two free throws and followed it up with a steal and an emphatic dunk on the ensuing possession to make it 69-67 with 1:19 left.
The Phoenix had two opportunities to tie or take the lead in the closing seconds of the game thanks to poor Northern Kentucky free throw shooting, going just 5-16 (31.3%) during the game.
The first chance was missed after Kerem Kanter was called for travelling with 34 seconds remaining. Kanter’s game high 23 points and 14 rebounds was a big reason why the Phoenix were even able to get back in the game in the first place.
However, after NKU’s Mason Faulkner missed two critical free throws following the turnover, Green Bay had one last chance to win or send the game into overtime but senior guard Khalil Small was also called for a travelling violation with 2 seconds left and the game was over.
“The second half, great fight but it’s too late,” Herbst said. “You can’t dig a hole on the road.”
“Good fight, good battle, just disappointing because we didn’t have that intensity and that fight in the first half.”
The Norse (16-9, 7-5) had four players in double figure scoring led by Cole Murray’s 17 thanks to a 5 for 10 performance from beyond the arc.
Drew McDonald, Jeff Garrett, and Brennan Gillis all chipped in with 10 points each to help Northern Kentucky move within a game of Green Bay in the loss column for second place.
“We let Cole Murray have way too many good looks,” Herbst said. “He had clean looks, we didn’t do a good job of following the scouting report.”
“We’ve got to correct those things and flush it down the toilet and be ready to go at Wright State.”
Green Bay was led by Kanter and Charles Cooper who scored 14 points off the bench. Freshman Kameron Hankerson chipped in 7 points, 2 blocks, and a steal in 11 impressive minutes of action off the bench as well.
The Phoenix were playing without starting point guard Trevor Anderson who missed his 5th straight game with a back injury. He will also miss Saturday’s game at Wright State.
The loss is the latest in what has been a roller coaster of inconsistency for Green Bay this season. The same Phoenix team that won impressively on the road at Oakland and in dominating fashion against Valparaiso is also the same team that lost at home to Youngstown State and at cellar dweller Detroit.
In fact, Green Bay is just 4-4 since a seven game winning streak ended at Valparaiso on January 16th.
“We’ve got six seniors, we were hoping they would step up and understand that we’re fighting to win the regular season championship here,” Herbst said. “We’ve got to come out ready to play every single night right from the tip, every possession counts both ends of the floor.”
“You’ve got to value the basketball, you’ve got to rebound, you’ve got to defend. I think our guys thought ‘well, we beat Northern Kentucky the first time around,’ and that’s not how it works in this game. You’ve got to come in ready to go.”
“We came in ready to go in the second half but I wish we would’ve had a better start to the game.”
For all intents and purposes, Green Bay will need to win their final five games of the regular season – at Wright State, at Milwaukee, at UIC, home vs Oakland and Detroit – and have Valparaiso slip up twice in their final six games in order to share the regular season crown.
The Phoenix are also now entrenched in a battle for second place and the valuable #2 seed at the Horizon League Tournament that comes with it. Green Bay could move into a tie with Oakland if they beat Detroit Mercy on Friday night and sits just a game ahead of Wright State and Northern Kentucky for second place.
Green Bay will play in Dayton on Saturday night against an improved Wright State squad that they beat by 17 back on January 12th at the Resch Center. The two teams split the season series last season with the Raiders winning 79-60 at the Nutter Center.
The Phoenix got the last laugh, however, and knocked off the Raiders 78-69 in the Horizon League Championship game last March.
“Wright State, that’ll be tough,” Herbst said. “We went there last year and they just thumped us.”
“Hopefully losing a hard fought battle here wakes us up and we come out from the get go ready to battle, ready to fight for this thing and stay in the hunt.”
Categories: Game Recaps