The Horizon League Tournament tips off Friday evening in Detroit and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Green Bay Phoenix.
The team is playing its best basketball of the season and has won two straight after notching its first road victories of the season over Oakland last Thursday and Detroit Mercy on Saturday.
The Phoenix raced out to a 61-36 halftime lead on Saturday against the Titans before eventually expanding the lead to 29 a minute into the second half. Green Bay shot 66.6% (22-33) from the floor in the first half and stayed hot from beyond the arc knocking down 9 of 13 three pointers (69.2%) in the half.
“We made shots,” assistant coach Ben Swank told WNFL radio after the game. “We made the extra pass, found open looks, and knocked it down. We told [the players] if you move the ball and make a few passes you can get good shots and we did that.”
“It seemed like we made all the right passes and it always helps when you’re knocking down open looks.”
The Titans mounted a bit of a comeback in the second half and cut the lead to just 11 with 2:05 left after a Josh McFolley layup.
Green Bay took some ill-advised shots and went cold from the three point line making just 5 of 18 (27.8%) in the second half while the Titans scored at will while committing just one turnover.
The Phoenix were able to hang on in the end for a 107-97 victory thanks to some big shots of their own and solid free throw shooting.
“We really settled for that outside shot,” Swank said. “We were making it in the first half but then in the second half we took a couple that were a little bit tougher and didn’t knock them down and it was kind of contagious. We didn’t shoot it as well and we stopped attacking the basket.”
“I thought we kind of settled and relaxed a little bit which you can’t do in this league on the road.”
The win sets up a rematch in the first round of the conference tournament in Detroit on Friday evening at 4:30 PM Central time at Little Caesars Arena. Green Bay clinched the #7 seed with the win over Detroit Mercy on Saturday afternoon while the Titans are the #10 seed but will have a significant advantage playing less than 10 miles from their campus.
Detroit also played a game at Little Caesars Arena earlier this season, though they were blown out 90-58 by the Michigan Wolverines.
“They exposed us a little bit in the second half and found out some things that we were weak at, I think that’ll be a bigger factor than where we’re playing at,” Swank said. “We have to improve on some things. In the second half they found some weaknesses that we didn’t do so well of guarding some things.”
“We’re definitely going to have to get in the film room and watch those and figure out a game plan. It’s always tough turning around and playing the same team that you just beat, especially when we played so well and got out to a big lead on them.”
Green Bay has dominated the Titans recently and has won 10 of the last 11 meetings, including 5 of 6 in the Linc Darner era. The Phoenix are averaging 97.3 points per game against UDM in their last six meetings but are also allowing the Titans to score 91.2 meaning no matter what it will likely be a high scoring contest.
However, Detroit has gotten the better of Green Bay in conference tournament games dating back to 1995 when the Phoenix joined the Horizon League. The Titans have won 4 of the 5 postseason match-ups including a 62-53 Titan upset victory in the 2010 conference tournament quarterfinals at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis in the most recent match-up.
“It’s going to be a totally different ball game, we’ll have to reiterate that to the guys,” Swank said. “Conference tournament…everybody has an extra energy level so we’re going to have to definitely bring it [this] week and be ready to go.”
The winner of Friday evening’s first round game will play #2 seed Wright State in the quarterfinals on Saturday. The winner of that game advances to the semifinals on Monday night.
The Phoenix have won four straight Motor City Madness games before – doing so as the #4 seed in 2016. After playing the league’s top three teams tough in three straight narrow losses, Green Bay has some momentum after two road wins in Detroit. They will need to win four more in Detroit if they want to reach the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s definitely what we wanted, a couple of road victories here and playing well coming down the stretch,” Swank said. “So we’ll see what we can get done here [this] week.”
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