GREEN BAY, Wis. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) - It wasn't always pretty, and it certainly was not fast, but the Green Bay men's basketball team was able to use a record number of made free throws and a career-high 31 points from sophomore Keifer Sykes (Chicago, Ill.) to fight off visiting Chicago State and post a 72-67 season opening win at the Resch Center on Saturday afternoon.
A Chicago native, Sykes topped the previous career high of 27 that he posted in the team's last regular season game of 2011-12, a win at UIC last February. He did so by scoring 22 points after halftime and connecting on a Green Bay record 17 free throws (17-19). As a team, the Phoenix also broke a 31-year old program record for free throws made, hitting 41-for-48 (85.4%).
The Phoenix needed every one of the free throws and all of Sykes' heroics to overcome 30 turnovers and escape a feisty Chicago State team that jumped out to a 13-1 lead at the first media timeout.
"It was an ugly win, but I'll take 30 of them if I can get them," said third-year head coach Brian Wardle after Green Bay improved to 23-2 in home openers since 1987-88.
Green Bay scored 18 of the next 23 points and took its first lead on a pair of free throws by senior Brennan Cougill (Sioux City, Iowa) with 9:05 left in the first half. The Phoenix missed the first free throw of the night before making its next 16 attempts. Green Bay's shooting percentage was just 26.1 percent (6-for-23) at halftime, but 17-of-19 from the line helped the team to trail just 33-30.
Sykes had two thunderous dunks in the game, the first with 5:43 left in the first half and the second early in half two when he opened by scoring 13 of the team's first 19 points to turn the deficit into a 49-41 lead with 12:48 to play.
Chicago State refused to go away, however, and the teams traded leads over the next seven minutes. The Cougars led 65-61 with 5:09 to play. The Phoenix, who won 12 of its 14 home games a season ago, responded with the next eight points and never trailed the rest of the way.
Sykes fittingly had five points during the run to surpass his previous career high. He finished 7-of-14 from the field and added the 17 free throws to become the first Phoenix player under Wardle to score 30 or more points in a game. Sykes also added seven rebounds and three steals in 36 minutes. The last Green Bay player to score 30 or more was Troy Cotton, who had 36 at Akron on March 17, 2010.
The Phoenix won despite a 4-for-26 combined shooting day from the other four starters - Cougill, juniors Alec Brown (Winona, Minn.) and Kam Cerroni (Sussex, Wis.) and freshman Jordan Fouse (Racine, Wis.). Fouse (10) and Brown (7) did help Green Bay to a 45-31 edge on the glass. Cougill was the only other player in double figures while Cerroni made all six of his free throws en route to eight points.
Green Bay finished the game shooting 31.3 percent (15-48), including 1-for-17 from long range. The Phoenix held CSU to 36.5 percent from the floor (23-63) and forced 27 turnovers.
The team hits the road to play four games in five days this week. Green Bay plays Southern Utah, Nevada and Cal State Fullerton at the World Vision Classic in Reno, Nevada from Nov. 16-18 before playing at Idaho on Nov. 20.
Read a full season preview of the men's basketball team and watch a 1-on-1 interview with Wardle.
Full season ticket and Pick 5 packages are on sale now with the Green Bay Athletics Ticket Office. For more information and to order tickets, please call 920.465.2625, visit the athletics department offices in the Kress Events Center or access GreenBayPhoenix.com/tickets.
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