With their backs against the wall, the struggling Green Bay Phoenix needed someone besides senior Khalil Small to step up and make a play.
Green Bay entered Wednesday night’s contest against Eastern Illinois just 1-4 against Division I opponents so far this season and trailed the Panthers at the Resch Center by as much as 18 in the first half before switching to a 1-3-1 zone and clawing their way back midway through the second.
Small, who shot the ball well for the third consecutive game, led the way with 20 points on 8-10 shooting including 3 for 3 from beyond the arc. But his big plays – especially a crucial three pointer in the left corner to cut the EIU lead to 3 with 1:45 left – were not enough.
Enter Sukhjot Bains.
The 6’6” JUCO transfer from Northwest College entered the game averaging just 10.4 minutes per game in the previous 5 games against Division I opponents. He scored 3 points in 13 minutes as a starter in the season opener against Northern Illinois and 2 points in 8 minutes in the team’s previous game at Belmont this past Saturday. He did not score in the three other Division I games the Phoenix have played this season.
But Bains contributed in a big way on Wednesday against the Panthers when Green Bay needed him most.
In 24 minutes, the junior from Delta, British Columbia scored 10 points – including 2 for 2 from downtown – and also chipped in with 4 rebounds and 4 steals. He played the pivotal role as the tip of the spear in Green Bay’s successful 1-3-1 defense in the second half to lead the comeback.
“Sukh, I tell you what, what a great game,” associate head coach Randall Herbst said after the game on WNFL. “That’s the stuff that we envisioned when we recruited him. Being able to knock down a shot, being able to get some tips and deflections, some hustle plays, being able to guard guys off the dribble.”
With Green Bay still trailing by 3 after Small’s critical three pointer, Bains stole the ball from Eastern Illinois’ Montell Goodwin with 1:25 left and charged ahead before smartly pulling back when the Phoenix did not have numbers in their favor. Instead, he passed it to Hunter Crist who fed it into David Jesperson in the low post who found a wide open Bains for the tie with 1:18 left.
After an EIU timeout, the Phoenix held firm on the defensive end before Bains again made a clutch basket, this time it was a driving layup in traffic with 21 seconds remaining to give Green Bay their first lead of the second half and the first lead since it was 14-13 with 12:59 left in the first half.
The Panthers would miss a potential game winning three pointer as the buzzer sounded and the Phoenix held on for an improbable 59-57 victory after ending the game on a 20-5 run over the final 8:17 of the game.
It was a team effort for sure, but it was Bains who was the hero in the final 1:30 of a game that Green Bay desperately needed to win on its home floor after a rough start to the season so far.
“Good for him because I know his confidence has been down,” Herbst said. “He’s had some opportunities that haven’t gone his way. But tonight everything came together for him.”
Categories: Game Recap