Green Bay head coach Linc Darner hopes he still has a few games left with his seniors.
The Phoenix finished the regular season in style on Saturday night holding off Cleveland State, 74-67, in front of a season-high crowd of 3,369 fans at the Kress Center on Senior Night. The win sealed the #3 seed in the conference tournament and a bye to the quarterfinals which will take place Thursday night.
“They played extremely well,” Darner said of his seniors on Green Bay’s CBS affiliate WFRV on Sunday night. “They’ve played extremely well really for about the past month and a half.”
The Phoenix are playing their best basketball of the season and have won two straight and 6 of their last 8 games thanks in large part to the play of their senior foursome of JayQuan McCloud, Kameron Hankerson, Cody Schwartz, and Josh McNair.
McCloud, the team’s leading scorer and a First Team All-Horizon selection, averaged 21.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game in the month of February and made 44.7% of his three point attempts. Hankerson, the longest tenured player on the roster and one of Darner’s first recruits, boosted his production from 9.7 points and 3.2 rebounds per game in the team’s first 23 games of the season to 15.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game in the 8 games in the month of February.
Schwartz, the DePere native who transferred home to Green Bay from San Jose State, remains a crucial part of the starting lineup and helps to stretch the defense with his three point shooting while McNair, the junior college transfer from Colorado, continues to provide much needed energy and rebounding off the bench.
“You tell them thank you,” Darner said when asked what he tells his players while they’re being honored on Senior Night. “I say to them ‘I hope we can keep playing.’ I hope they enjoyed their time here playing at Green Bay and playing for us.”
“I know at times we can be very demanding as a coaching staff and we get on them and we try to make them work hard all the time and try to do things the right way. Sometimes maybe guys when they’re here don’t understand that, but a lot of times when they get out and they get in the real world…about being on time, doing things the right way, hopefully in 5-6 years if one of them calls me back and says ‘Hey coach, thanks for making me do those things’, it’s well worth it.”
Green Bay has gone 37-32 so far in the two years of eligibility from McCloud, McNair, and Schwartz, including a run all the way to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament championship game last April, and is 68-66 during Hankerson’s career. Thursday night’s quarterfinal game will be Hankerson’s 127th in a Phoenix uniform, tied for 6th most in program history.
“It’s emotional losing guys that have done a lot for you and your program,” Darner said.
Not surprisingly it was a couple of seniors leading the way over Cleveland State on Saturday with Hankerson scoring a team-high 17 points and grabbing 6 rebounds and McCloud adding a near triple double at 12 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists.
Hopefully Green Bay’s seniors will have at least a few more games left with the Phoenix as the Horizon League Tournament gets underway this week. A win on Thursday at the Resch Center would send Green Bay to Indianapolis where the semifinals and finals are played on a neutral floor next Monday and Tuesday.
If they win the tournament they’d be heading back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016 – before any current player joined the roster. Even if they come up short in the conference tournament it’s possible the team’s season could continue like it did last year in the CIT.
But when it inevitably ends, these seniors have undoubtedly left their mark on the Phoenix program.
“It is tough,” Darner said. “We’re losing four very good, not only basketball players, but four very good guys that are great to be around and have done a great job, been great in the community. You couldn’t ask for anything better from them.”
“Thank goodness we hung on [Saturday] to get them a win on Senior Day and hopefully we can go find a way to play four, five, or six more games with them.”
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