Phoenix Preview

Green Bay heads to Michigan for two tough road games

After a brief but wild two game home stand that saw Green Bay overcome two late deficits against two of the Horizon League’s worst teams, the Phoenix take to the road for a two game Michigan trip to face two of the conference’s biggest surprises – Detroit Mercy and Oakland.

The Phoenix enter week 3 of the conference season in first place as the league’s only remaining undefeated team at 3-0, though Green Bay has played the easiest schedule so far with a road win at Milwaukee (1-2) and home victories over Youngstown State (1-3) and Cleveland State (0-4).

Green Bay preserved its perfect record despite blowing a 12-point second half lead and eventually trailing Cleveland State by 16 points with 6:08 left to play on Saturday before starting a furious comeback that was capped by Sandy Cohen’s buzzer beater giving the Phoenix a 90-89 win.

“We never want anybody to leave early,” head coach Linc Darner joked Tuesday night on the Green Bay Phoenix Coaches Show on WDUZ. “Our guys did a great job in the last six minutes making a great comeback. We’d like not to have to do that, but sometimes that happens.”

“You don’t know why you win or how you won the game but at the end of the day the only thing that matters is we got the ‘W’. It may not have been pretty for a while for us but our guys did a good job and made a lot of big buckets and a lot of big free throws.”

hankerson - terri wagner - CSU.jpg

Photo: Terri Wagner / Green Bay Athletics

So now the Phoenix will face two big tests starting Thursday night at Calihan Hall against Detroit Mercy. The Titans are 6-10 overall but currently sit in a tie for second place at 3-1 in the Horizon League after sweeping Cleveland State and Youngstown State on the road during the opening week of conference play and splitting with the two league favorites at home last week – Wright State and Northern Kentucky.

The Titans won in convincing fashion, 79-58, against Wright State last Thursday thanks to stifling defense and 48 points on 15-24 shooting (62.5%) from the floor, including 10-15 (66.7%) from beyond the arc, from freshman phenom Antoine Davis.

Davis, the son of new Detroit Mercy head coach Mike Davis, is a big reason for the Titans surprise start to the season. The reigning Horizon League Player of the Week is averaging a league best 27.3 points per game this season and 31.3 points per game in UDM’s four conference games so far.

“Probably the best scoring guard that we have faced in my time here,” Darner said of Davis. “He can score it anyway possible. He’ll make unbelievable shots with two guys guarding him. He can go right, he can go left, he can step back, he can get to the rim, he can pull up and shoot threes.”

“It’s just one of those games you have to ask yourself, do we want to try and limit him and make other guys beat you? Or do we want to let him get his and try to contain everybody else?”

The Titans, who were predicted to finish last in the Horizon League’s preseason poll, do have other complimentary pieces such as four year starter Josh McFolley who is second on the team in scoring at 11.7 points per game.  The 6’1” senior also ranks second in the Horizon League averaging 2.0 steals per game. Other complimentary pieces include 6’7” senior Derrien King, 6’9” senior Gerald Blackshear, and 6’4” junior Lamar Hamrick.

But as Davis goes, so go the Titans. UDM is 5-2 in games where he hits at least 6 three pointers.

The 6’1” guard has also scored 30 or more points in seven games already this season.

“We’re going to try and do a couple different things on him, maybe double team him some, maybe try to face guard him,” Darner said. “He’s really good and they’re really good because of him but they’ve got a couple of other guys that can score.”

Green Bay has won 4 straight games against the Titans and 11 of the last 12 meetings with the lone loss being a 93-92 decision at Calihan Hall in January of 2017. The Phoenix ended UDM’s season last year at the Horizon League Tournament at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.

Thursday’s game at Detroit Mercy tips off at 6:00 PM and will be broadcast on ESPN+.

The Phoenix will then make the short 20 mile drive to Rochester, Michigan and take on the Oakland Grizzlies on Saturday afternoon.

Oakland also enters week 3 of the season in a tie for second place at 3-1 after sweeping Youngstown State and Cleveland State and upsetting league favorite Northern Kentucky at home last Thursday night.  The Grizzlies lone loss came Saturday evening against Wright State at the O’rena.

Known as an up-tempo offense for the past several years, Oakland comes into this weekend’s game ranked 232nd in adjusted tempo according to KenPom.com and 317th in average possession length at 18.7 seconds per possession.  Last season, the Grizzlies ranked 72nd in tempo after ranking 28th in 2017.

OU is a solid shooting team this season though, ranking 3rd in the Horizon League in overall field goal percentage at 47.1%, just a tenth of a percentage point behind leaders UIC and Northern Kentucky. They also lead the league in three point shooting connecting on 42.8% of their three pointers, which ranks well ahead of second place Detroit Mercy at 37.3%.

“Oakland’s really playing really well right now,” Darner said. “They’re awful good, it’ll be a great challenge for us. They’re a little bit different than what they’ve been in the past, in the past they’ve been more up and down and score a bunch.  They’re more of a slower team but they can really shoot the ball.”

Green Bay and Oakland have met 14 times as Division I opponents with each side winning 7 games. The Phoenix have won 6 of the 10 meetings as Horizon League members. Green Bay has won three of the last four games against the Grizzlies including a season sweep last season.

Saturday’s matinée game will tip off at 2:00 PM and will be broadcast on ESPN+.

The Phoenix are 3-0 and in first place two weeks into the season but face their stiffest competition of the conference season this week in Michigan.  It’s an early season measuring stick game for Green Bay as well as for Detroit Mercy and Oakland to find out who is for real.

These games could also affect tiebreakers at the end of the season to determine who the top four seeds are that will host first round games of the Horizon League Tournament.

“I’m very happy to be 3-0 but we very easily could be 0-3 right now,” Darner said. “If we don’t come ready to play every game you could walk out with an ‘L’.”

“It’s going to be a great challenge for us, these two games.  As you go on the road, I tell our guys if you want to compete for the league you have to find a way to split on the road and win at home.”

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