By Justin Grones (@JustinGrones)
CLEVELAND, Ohio. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) - Ten lead changes. Four ties. A deficit of as many as 12 points. But one final outcome-a 52-49 thrilling comeback win for the Green Bay women's basketball team (13-2, 3-0 HL) over Cleveland State (10-6, 2-1 HL). The win is the eighth straight for the Horizon League-leading Phoenix, which plays its next three games on the road.
"This game was a tough, physical battle and I think Cleveland State played a lot tougher than we did tonight," head coach Kevin Borseth said. "They really came ready to play, and we really need to focus on showing more toughness in physical games like these."
Green Bay opened the game on a transition layup from senior Sarah Eichler (Grafton, Wis.), followed by another layup by redshirt senior Stephanie Sension (Hopkins, Minn.). Cleveland State wasted no time answering the early Phoenix lead, grabbing a 6-4 advantage off a Shalonda Winton triple. The basket sparked a 9-2 run for the Vikings, who extended their lead to 15-6 with 10:20 remaining in the first half.
Eichler cut the deficit to 18-11 on a free throw with 4:03 remaining in the half, but Cleveland State responded with four unanswered points to push the lead to 22-11. Again, Eichler was there with a turnaround lay-in down low to end a scoring drought of more than three minutes for the Phoenix, putting Green Bay within nine at 22-13.
Cleveland State took a 24-14 lead into the half after grabbing 23 rebounds to Green Bay's nine. The Vikings also held the Phoenix to just 26.1 percent from the field in the half, including an 0-for-6 effort from behind the arc.
The Vikings opened the second half with a pair of free throws to push the lead to 26-14, but the Phoenix began to slowly chip away at the lead. For the first part of the half, however, Cleveland State answered every time Green Bay scored.
A three from senior Adrian Ritchie (De Pere, Wis.) with 12:47 remaining cut the Vikings' lead to 35-27 and sparked a streak where she would score seven of Green Bay's next nine points. With 9:25 remaining, she used a fastbreak layup to cut the lead to 39-35. After a tough half from the field in the first half, Ritchie rebounded in the second to score 13 points in the game and grab five steals.
An Eichler layup cut the lead to 39-37 with 8:32 to play and she followed it up by drilling a three to take a 40-39 advantage, the first lead for Green Bay since the 14:30 mark of the first half. Cleveland State would respond, however, in the second half's first of nine lead changes.
Sension scored four consecutive to give Green Bay a 44-42 lead with less than six minutes to play, but again the Vikings would retake the advantage just seconds later. Sension finished with 16 points and six rebounds on 8-14 shooting.
Trailing 47-46 with 3:50 remaining, redshirt sophomore Megan Lukan (Barrie, Ontario) hit two free throws to put Green Bay up by one. Cleveland State's Imani Gordon laid it in on the other end seconds later to retake the lead at 49-48, but an Eichler free throw a minute later tied things up at 49-49.
With 1:35 remaining, Eichler banked in possibly the most important shot of the night, giving the Phoenix a 52-49 lead-one it would hold for the remainder of the game. Eichler finished with a game-high 17 points.
"It was really back-and-forth in the second half, but we scored when we needed to. We needed to score late in that game, and then hold on to that lead," Borseth said.
Cleveland State had opportunities to tie the game twice with just seconds left, but missed both attempts from behind the arc. Green Bay's smothering zone defense was able to seal the win, the eighth straight win for the top team in the Horizon League.
Green Bay shot 50 percent from the field in the second half for a 39.6 mark for the game, and forced a tied season-high 26 Cleveland State turnovers. After turning the ball over 11 times in the first half, the Phoenix had just two turnovers in the final 20 minutes. The win also marks the 11th time in 15 games this season that Green Bay's nationally second-best scoring defense has held an opponent under 50 points.
will remain in Ohio for the rest of the weekend as it travels to Youngstown to
take on Youngstown State in a Saturday night matchup. Tipoff will be at 6 p.m.
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