Green Bay's Memorable 2013-14 Season in the Books
GREEN BAY, Wis. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) – Throughout the 2013-14 Green Bay men’s basketball season, the phrases “first time since,” “most since,” and “record breaking,” became commonplace.
Under fourth-year head coach Brian Wardle, Green Bay posted a 24-7 overall record and rolled through Horizon League play to claim the program’s first regular season title in 18 years. The Phoenix hosted the conference tournament for the first time since 1998 and hosted a game in the National Invitation Tournament for the first time in program history.
“We made a big step forward as a program this year,” said Wardle. “We won a lot of games, set some records and did some things that haven’t been done in this program for a long time. We did some things this year that we can build on, and I’m very proud of the group of players and coaches in our locker room.”
The season ended with a sour taste for the Phoenix, with home losses to Milwaukee and Belmont ending Green Bay’s appearances in the Horizon League Championship and National Invitation Tournament, respectively. Injuries played a factor in the losses, with star point guard and conference player of the year Keifer Sykes (Chicago, Ill.) either hobbled or in street clothes in the two games.
“The last two weeks were disappointing for our program and our fans, but we will not let those games diminish the hard work and good play we had throughout the entire season,” said Wardle. “Our program has improved and is in a better place today than it was a year ago. We are never satisfied and have a lot to work for this offseason as we look towards 2014-15.”
Those months of hard work and good play that Wardle speaks of created a laundry list of accomplishments for the program. A Horizon League title, votes in national polls, media attention, wins over conference champions, 10 Horizon League Player of the Week awards, a sweep of the league’s major postseason honors and the opportunity to host the Horizon League Championship and the NIT are just the cusp of the Phoenix highlights in a memorable season.
The cancellation of the scheduled HBCU Tip-Off Classic in Atlanta changed plans at the beginning of the season, but Green Bay welcomed Wisconsin on Nov. 16. Sykes poured in 32 points in front of a record-breaking crowd of 9,906 people at the Resch Center, but the Badgers pulled out a 69-66 win.
Senior Alec Brown (Winona, Ill.) registered a triple-double on Nov. 23 before the Phoenix traveled to the Great Alaska Shootout. After a loss to Ivy League champion Harvard in the semifinals, Green Bay secured third place with a 67-59 win over Conference USA champion Tulsa.
Phoenix Hall of Famer Tony Bennett brought his Virginia team to the Resch Center on Dec. 7, but junior Greg Mays (Chicago, Ill.) scored a career-high 24 points to help ruin Bennett’s homecoming as Green Bay won 75-72. Bennett’s Cavaliers went on to win the regular season and tournament titles in the ACC and earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
With 21 points and 10 assists, Sykes did something in the win that not even Bennett accomplished in a Phoenix jersey. He became the first player in the program’s Division I history to score 20 or more points in six consecutive games.
Wins in the final five non-conference games were part of a 12-game winning streak which began on Dec. 14 and included Brown’s 40-point game against Fairfield on Dec. 21.
Horizon League Play
Green Bay won its first seven Horizon League contests to take early command in the standings and stretch a winning streak to 12 games with a win over Detroit on Jan. 25, the longest since 1995-96. The Phoenix began receiving votes in the Associated Press Top-25 poll on Jan. 26, but saw its streak end at Valparaiso with an injured Brown watching from the sidelines.
After two more wins, a home loss to Milwaukee dropped the Phoenix to 9-2, but the resiliency of the group showed during a five-game winning streak to end the regular season.
The streak started with dominating road wins at Youngstown State and Cleveland State, with Brown averaging 21 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game on the Ohio sweep. The following Monday, he was named Horizon League Player of the Week for the fourth time in 2013-14. That number was bested only by a teammate, as Sykes earned the weekly honor a Horizon League and program record six times during his junior campaign.
On Feb. 20, Green Bay had the chance to clinch its first Horizon League title in 18 years, and the Phoenix delivered with a 67-53 win over visiting Valparaiso. Sykes scored 19 points and Brown added 14 points and eight blocks on one of the most memorable Senior Nights in Green Bay history.
Green Bay polished off the program’s best road record since – you guessed it – 1995-96, with a sweep of Oakland and Detroit on the final weekend of the regular season. Sykes had his 15th 20-point game in the finale at Detroit, scoring 29 points while making five three-pointers and all six of his free throws. Sykes broke his own single-season record (188) and the Division I career record (415) for free throws made.
Green Bay’s regular season title secured the right to host the Horizon League Championship in Titletown for the first time since 1998. In the semifinals, Brown and Sykes were left hobbled in the opening 10 minutes, and a hot-shooting Milwaukee squad forced overtime and won 73-66.
Sitting securely on the middle of the bubble, Green Bay’s hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament were dashed on Selection Sunday when the Phoenix was part of the group making up the first four out.
With an invitation to the NIT for the first time in 22 years, Green Bay hosted Belmont at the Resch Center on March 18. Still hobbled from the injury, Sykes was forced to watch in street clothes as the Phoenix lost 80-65 to the Ohio Valley Conference champions.
League Awards Sweep
When the Horizon League awards were announced on March 3, it came as no surprise to see Green Bay collect some hardware. With Wardle voted Coach of the Year, Sykes tabbed Player of the Year and Brown named Defensive Player of the Year, the Phoenix became only the second team (Butler, 2009-10) in league history to sweep those three major honors.
Wardle is the third Phoenix coach in its Division I history to earn Coach of the Year accolades (Dick Bennett, 1990-91 and 1991-92; Mike Heideman, 1995-96). Likewise, Sykes becomes just the third player (Tony Bennett, Jeff Nordgaard) in Green Bay’s Division I program history to earn conference player of the year honors and the first since Nordgaard in 1995-96. Brown joins Terry Evans (2007-08) as the only two Phoenix players to win Defensive Player of the Year.
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