Green Bay headed to NCAA Tournament with Horizon win

Geoff Robinson
The Detroit News

Detroit — The dream of dancing in March became reality for Green Bay Tuesday night as it disposed of Wright State, 78-69, in the finale of the Horizon League’s four-day tournament at Joe Louis Arena.

Green Bay locked up the conference’s automatic spot in the NCAA Tournament and will put on its dancing shoes for the first time in 20 years.

“This is one of the best days of my life,” Green Bay forward and tournament MVP Jordan Fouse said. “We’ve worked hard for four years, and it finally paid off.”

In a tournament designed to heavily favor the two teams that finished at the top of the league (Valparaiso and Oakland), it was the third-seeded Raiders of Wright State taking on the fourth-seeded Phoenix in the final. Both were playing their fourth game in four days after scoring their respective semifinal upsets.

Green Bay (23-12) was the fresher team from the get-go as its up-tempo style appeared to give it the edge. The Phoenix got to the line, shooting 21 more free throws than Wright State, leading to 14 more makes. They also held a healthy edge in field-goal percentage (47 percent to 38 percent) as Wright State’s tired legs had it leaving a lot of shots short.

“The game of basketball is a make or miss game,” Wright State coach Billy Donlon said in the wake of his team losing in the tournament final for the third time in four years. “We missed some incredibly wide open shots. We took a lot of things to the rim, had open 3s, and they just didn’t go in.”

The Phoenix used a 13-0 run in the first half to power ahead of a Wright State team that was having trouble keeping up with the pace Green Bay was dictating.

“We have no time to be tired,” Green Bay coach Linc Darner said. “I love playing the way we play. We practice this style, our guys are used to it. ”

After falling behind by as many as 15 in the first half, the Raiders made a push with a 12-2 run to cut their deficit to five with 4:30 remaining before the break. Green Bay pushed back with a balanced attack, getting five or more points from six players in the first half and taking a 42-30 lead into halftime.

Wright State (22-13) never recovered. Its best chance came when it cut its deficit to 67-57 with two minutes left and got the ball back with a chance to cut the lead to single digits for the first time in the second half. But JT Yoho’s 3-pointer came off the rim and Green Bay made its free throws down the stretch to seal the deal despite a few late 3-pointers from the Raiders.

The Phoenix led by 19 in the second half. They got contributions from everyone, including 16 points from Fouse, 15 from Charles Cooper, 12 from Kenneth Lowe and 10 from Carrington Love.

Michael Karena led Wright State with 14 points, while Thomasson had 13 points and 13 rebounds.

Geoff Robinson is a freelance writer.