After an impressive win over league-leading Wright State last Sunday and finally stopping the 6-game skid against IUPUI this past Thursday morning, the Green Bay Phoenix had a golden opportunity Saturday afternoon to take control of third place in the Horizon League standings and stay within striking distance of second place Northern Kentucky.
It was not meant to be, however, as the Phoenix fell 71-58 at UIC to settle for a weekend split and fall into a fourth place tie at 7-6 behind first place Wright State (11-2), Northern Kentucky (10-3), and Youngstown State (7-5). The Penguins have a half game lead over Green Bay, UIC, and Milwaukee due to having played one less conference game so far.
The Phoenix performance on Saturday was one of their worst of the season, rating as their third worst game of the year according to BartTorvik.com’s game score metric with only home losses against IUPUI, Evansville, and Colgate ranking worse.
Green Bay turned the ball over 18 times in the game, a season high against a Division I opponent, and were held to just 57 points – their second lowest output of the season and the lowest since the season-opening 79-57 loss at Purdue. The Phoenix ten first half turnovers were more than they have committed in eight entire games this season.
Green Bay was able to force UIC into 23 turnovers of their own – also a season high by a Division I opponent – but were not able to take advantage of the Flames’ mistakes.
“It wasn’t one of our better games, I think we are a lot better than what we showed,” head coach Linc Darner said after the game via the team’s official Twitter account. “When we have halves where we turn the ball over like we did today in the first half to start the game…I told our guys we’re not a very good team when we do that.”
“When we take care of it, when we move it, we’re really good. But for some reason today it just wasn’t our day, we didn’t play very good. We didn’t execute what we wanted offensively or defensively.”
After a JayQuan McCloud free throw to cut the UIC lead to 26-22 with 5:48 left in the first half, the Flames would eventually open up a 16-point lead thanks to a 14-2 run helped by five Phoenix turnovers over that span. Green Bay would eventually whittle the lead down to 11 by halftime but UIC scored the first six points of the second half to build the advantage back to 17.
The Phoenix were able to get back within 11 again with about ten and half minutes left to play but could never get any closer than that thanks to 57.1% second half shooting from the Flames – despite going just 1-10 from behind the arc in the second half. Green Bay shot a measly 32.3% in the second half.
“I thought we did a good job a couple times battling back…[UIC] made some plays,” Darner said. “We told our guys there was probably four possessions in the game where we had layups at our end and we don’t convert them and they go down and hit a two or a three – we figured it to be about an 18 point swing. We’ve got to do a better job of finishing those, it’s been an emphasis.”
Green Bay was out-rebounded 39-30 in the game and outscored 38-22 in the paint, but it was the devastating effect of 18 turnovers combined with the inability to take advantage of a lot of UIC’s turnovers that ultimately cost the Phoenix a chance to stay in the race for a top-two seed and the double bye at the conference tournament that comes with it.
“We were probably very sloppy with it, we just made some plays we haven’t made for a while,” said Darner, who’s team entered the game as a top 25 team in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio. “The thing is we had about four or five possessions in a row where they turn it over in the first and second half and we couldn’t convert at the other end a few times.”
“We’ve been good on not turning the ball over. We told our guys if we get up and guard them they will turn it over. We couldn’t capitalize on it. Normally if the other team turns the ball over 23 times you’d think you’d have a chance to win.”
With the Norse finally healthy and playing their best basketball of the season, holding a three game lead on the coveted second seed with only five to play seems insurmountable. However, there is still plenty to play for as far as Horizon League Tournament seeding goes. Seeds 3 through 6 will host a first round tournament game and then the two highest remaining seeded teams will also host a second round game, meaning a third or fourth place finish could guarantee two home conference tournament games – assuming an opening round victory.
The tournament’s semifinals and championship game will be played at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis.
Next up on Green Bay’s five game road trip is a massive game on Saturday night against in-state rival Milwaukee who is also currently 7-6 and tied for fourth in the standings. The Phoenix will be looking for revenge after the Panthers dominated the Phoenix at the Resch Center back on January 11th winning 87-80.
After that the Phoenix travel to Detroit Mercy and Oakland before finishing up the regular season with home games against Youngstown State and Cleveland State.
“We’ve got three games here in a row on the road, we’ve got to find a way to get two of the three if we can,” Darner said. “So now we go to Milwaukee next Saturday, we’ve got to find a way, that’s a huge game.”
“It’s a big game next Saturday, we’ve got to find a way to win it.”
Categories: Game Recap