Green Bay’s quest for a postseason championship came up one game short.
The Phoenix fell, 90-70, to the Marshall Thundering Herd on Thursday night in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament championship game at the Cam Henderson Center on the Marshall University campus.
It was a disappointing end to an incredibly fun five game postseason run through the CIT field with Green Bay winning a road game at East Tennessee State in the first round followed up by home wins over Florida International, Cal State Bakersfield, and Texas Southern.
The Phoenix started the game hot, building up a 13 point lead with 6:11 left in the first half. Marshall, a normally prolific three point shooting team, struggled all night shooting from behind the arc finishing just 3 for 26 (11.5%) on three pointers, well below their season average of 34.8%.
To counter their poor shooting the Herd started attacking the basket, specifically senior CJ Burks, and cut the Green Bay lead to just two at halftime at 42-40. Burks finished with a game high 28 points and was named the tournament MVP after the game.
In the second half the teams traded the lead back and forth with Green Bay even building up a 7 point lead with 13:40 left to play. However it would be all Marshall after that, likely due in part to tired legs from the Phoenix semifinal victory late on Tuesday night that required overtime and then an all-day travel day to get from Green Bay to Huntington, West Virginia for the championship game.
“Just ran out of gas there in the second half,” assistant coach Ben Swank told Brian Kuklinski on the WDUZ postgame show after the game. “We were a little bit stagnant on offense.”
While the Herd struggled shooting the three ball they dominated around the basket scoring 58 points in the paint, many which came courtesy of 16 offensive rebounds.
Marshall scored 24 second chance points as a result of those offensive rebounds.
“Defensively, they would drive and would put up a shot and our rotation guy, which was normally a guard back-side, we just couldn’t get those guys boxed out on the rotation and they got some timely put backs,” Swank said. “Offensive rebound put backs really hurt us.”
The tired legs, plus a raucous crowd of 5,748 at the Henderson Center, led to the Herd ending the game on a 39-12 run over the final 13:40. Green Bay struggled defensively but was also held without a field goal for the last 5:14 of the game.
“This crowd, what a home court advantage for them,” Swank said. “They were loud, I couldn’t hear myself for much of the game.”
The Phoenix shot 9-33 (27.2%) from the floor in the second half including just 1-9 (11.1%) from beyond the arc but also struggled from the free throw line going 10-20 (50.0%) for the game.
Tank Hemphill led the way for the Phoenix scoring 21 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in 31 minutes of action. Josh McNair finished with 9 points and 7 rebounds while senior Sandy Cohen, playing in his final game in a Green Bay uniform, scored 13 points and grabbed 6 rebounds. He passed Tony Bennett and Jeff Nordgaard for most points scored in a single season in program history scoring 666 points this season.
The Phoenix finish with a 21-17 overall record but return basically the entire roster for next season. The loss of Cohen will leave a huge hole but Green Bay will be returning 4 of its 5 starters and 78% of its scoring next season.
Even though the team came up short in the championship game, it was a good opportunity for the players that will be returning to gain experience and build momentum for next season.
“We have a majority of the team back,” Swank said. “With those extra games it got some guys going, got some guys confidence heading into the offseason. Hopefully that will make them work harder in the offseason and come back hungry for next year. We had a great time, the extra practice time that we got in, we really had fun with this postseason.”
“I thought our guys gave their all and played hard and had fun.”