It’s been an impressive three game run in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament so far for the Green Bay Phoenix.
Green Bay knocked off the top NET ranked team in the tournament – East Tennessee State – on the Bucs home court in the first round in somewhat convincing fashion, though ETSU was playing a bit shorthanded. The Phoenix notched their highest scoring output against a Division I opponent this season in their 102-94 victory.
They followed that up with a 98-68 drubbing of Florida International in the second round last Tuesday night and then went on to dispatch Cal State Bakersfield, 80-65, on Friday night in a quarterfinal game meaning the Phoenix have plenty of momentum heading into Tuesday night’s semifinal matchup against Texas Southern at the Kress Center.
Green Bay is averaging 93.3 points per game so far in its three CIT games, but more impressively the team has shot 51.9% from the floor over the three-game span including 42.1% from beyond the arc.
“I think we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” assistant coach Ben Swank told Brian Kuklinski on WDUZ radio after the FIU game on Tuesday. “We’re shooting the ball extremely well.”
Green Bay is also +6.0 in rebounding margin in the CIT after having a -3.7-margin entering the tournament.
Add it all up and you have a loose team that looks like it’s having fun playing with house money. Green Bay is the last Horizon League team and last college basketball team in the state of Wisconsin that is still playing.
“I think there’s not as much pressure on our guys,” Swank said. “A little bit of pressure in the conference tournament, towards the end of the season, it’s kind of been almost like a weight lifted off our shoulders and really allowed our guys to play well which is good to see.”
Tuesday night’s semifinal clash with Texas Southern will be the first time in program history that Green Bay has played a game in April. But no matter the result, the deep postseason run has provided the Phoenix with valuable practice time and game experience while the vast majority of the country is at home after their seasons ended in March.
It has also given Green Bay fans more chances to see senior phenom Sandy Cohen play in a Phoenix jersey.
“It’s allowed us to work on some things that we wanted to do this year and we didn’t get to, but for the future,” assistant coach Richard Davis said on the post game show after the victory over CSUB on Friday. “The biggest thing is practice and putting those guys who didn’t get a lot of time in crunch time this year in those positions because life goes on without Sandy next year.”
Texas Southern will pose a challenge on Tuesday night, however. The Tigers are 16-2 since January 28th with one of the losses coming to Prairie View A&M in the SWAC championship game on March 16th. They are 24-13 overall this season but as usual, they played a murders row of Power 5 schools on the road during the non-conference slate but were able to pull of victories at NCAA Tournament participants Baylor and Oregon as well as at Texas A&M.
For its part, Green Bay is playing its best basketball of the season and is two wins away from a tournament championship. The Phoenix are playing solid defense and are getting contributions from several different sources with five different players averaging double figures during the tournament including Cohen (24.5 points per game), JayQuan McCloud (16.0), Trevian Bell (10.7), Tank Hemphill (10.3), and Cody Schwartz (10.0).
The short term goal is winning the tournament but the post-season run will likely pay dividends for the returning players next season as well.
“It’s kind of how we envisioned us playing this year but it took us a little longer to mojo,” Davis said. “Hopefully it’s something for the future. The last thing we leave on the board when we leave the locker room is ‘play hard and have fun’ and then let the chips fall where they may. If you do what you’re coached to do, for the most part everything will take care of itself.”
“The atmosphere is great, so as long as everyone keeps coming out we’ll just keep doing our best to keep them entertained.”
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