The Green Bay Phoenix men’s basketball team was riding high after knocking off Robert Morris on Thursday night at the Resch Center to secure their first Division I win of the season and start off Horizon League play 1-0.
It was an extremely satisfying victory for a team that has struggled to put teams away and close out games. Green Bay had lost 3 of its first 4 games by a combined 9 points after holding at least an 8-point lead in all 3 of those games. This time, when the Phoenix let a six point second-half lead slip away turning into a three-point deficit, Green Bay battled back to tie the game at 48-48 with 10:23 and wouldn’t trail again.
In fact, the Phoenix would outscore the Colonials 19-7 to end the game and would go on to win 70-58 to start conference play on a positive note and have some momentum going into Saturday night’s game against Youngstown State at the Kress Center.
But any momentum was short lived, however, as the Penguins came out and dominated the Phoenix in almost every facet of the game. It was a two-point game at 32-30 with 2:42 left in the first half but it was all YSU after that with the Penguins taking a nine point lead into halftime before scoring the first 11 points of the second half. The lead eventually swelled to 26 at 62-36 and Green Bay couldn’t get closer than 20 in a humiliating 82-58 loss.
The Penguins shot 53.6% from the floor during the game, including 62.1% in the second half. They also made 8 of 14 three-point attempts (57.1%) in the second half outscoring the Phoenix 42-27 in the period.
“You look at their second half shooting percentages, they were making everything,” assistant coach Jared Swanson told Brian Kuklinski on the Phoenix Sports Network postgame show. “I don’t think we closed out good enough, especially early there with some of those guys.”
“You know how it goes, when it rains it pours. Because then the next guy comes in and he’s feeling it, and the next guy’s feeling it. That first half, we felt like we didn’t play very great, but it was a 9-point game.”
It was only the third time Youngstown State has won in Green Bay in a series that dates back to the early 1990s.
The Penguins improved to 2-0 in conference play this season after starting conference play by knocking off UW-Milwaukee on Thursday night at the UWM Panther Arena. The Phoenix fell to 1-1.
“Youngstown, they play their butts off,” Swanson said. “We knew it was going to be a rock fight coming in here.”
“For lack of better terms, I thought we just played soft.”
So where does the team go from here? As the growing pains continue to add up, the coaching staff is hoping these learning experiences will help pay dividends down the stretch.
The team seemed to use some previous lessons learned on Thursday night to get over the hump and close out a tight game. Now the team must also learn from getting dominated on their home floor by an inferior opponent.
“Our guys need to learn to be tougher,” Swanson said. “That’s hard unless they experience a game like this and we go back and watch film and you say ‘hey right here, you could’ve been tougher here. You needed to do this, you needed to do that.’ We feel like we have a good group that will learn from those teaching clips and all that stuff.”
“I hate saying it all the time but it’s an experience thing. But they need to be out here and be in those situations and hopefully sooner rather than later we will learn from those and being down nine at halftime, we’ll come back and punch them in the mouth and make it a game and go on our own 9-0 run.”
Green Bay will now head out on the road for five straight games starting with UMKC on Friday night in Kansas City to start a home-and-home series with the Roos. The Phoenix will then play Kansas State on Sunday and wrap up the non-conference portion of their schedule against Minnesota on December 22nd.
The Phoenix will return to conference play on Thursday, December 30 at Northern Kentucky and then play at Wright State on New Years Day before finally playing a home game on January 5th when rival Milwaukee comes to the Resch Center.
“Obviously three really tough games, which will be good for us,” Swanson said of the remaining non-conference schedule. “That’s part of it. What are we building up for? The conference season. The conference tournament.”
“After our Robert Morris game, I felt like, alright we took some lumps down in Florida, we were close. We felt like we kind of turned a corner. And then a team like Youngstown comes in here and punches us in the mouth.”
“We’re 1-1 in the conference. We’re not first, we’re not last. But we’re still finding our way and those 3 games, we need to use those to help us move forward in the process.”