NCAA Birth on the Line for Green Bay Phoenix MBB

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By: Andrew Gavin (@GBGavin)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) – For the first time in 17 seasons, Green Bay will play for the Horizon League tournament title and an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. The second-seeded Phoenix (24-7) will play at top-seeded Valparaiso (27-5) on Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. CST. With a win, the Phoenix would reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996.

Green Bay advanced with a 70-56 victory over UIC on Saturday in the semifinals. SeniorsKeifer Sykes (Chicago, Ill.), Alfonzo McKinnie (Chicago, Ill.) and Greg Mays (Chicago, Ill.) combined for 53 points in the win, with Sykes scoring 23 of his game-high 30 points in the second half. The two-time Horizon League Player of the Year has scored 29 points per game during Green Bay’s current three-game winning streak.

Head coach Brian Wardle’s team is in the midst of its second-straight strong season, and with 48 wins the past two seasons the team has won 24 or more wins in consecutive seasons for the first time 1992.

GREEN BAY PROBABLE STARTERS
G – #24 Keifer Sykes, Sr., 6-0, 180
G – #12 Carrington Love, Jr., 6-1, 171
F – #4 Jordan Fouse, Jr., 6-7, 225
F – #15 Greg Mays, Sr., 6-9, 222
F – #34 Alfonzo McKinnie, Sr., 6-8, 215

LIVE COVERAGE: Tuesday night’s game can be watched live on ESPN, with Bob Wichusen (play-by-play) and Jim Calhoun (analyst) on the call. Fans can also tune intoWNFL 1440 AM and 92.1 FM, where Matt Menzl (play-by-play) and Andrew Gavin (analyst) will bring fans a radio broadcast of the game.

LEAGUE OF HIS OWN: In accumulating 2,068 points, 520 assists and 458 rebounds, senior Keifer Sykes is the only player in the history of the Horizon League to reach 2,000-plus points, 500-plus assists and 400-plus rebounds. Sykes is also the only active player nationally to rack up those numbers for a career. With 30 more points, Sykes will move into fifth place all-time on the league’s scoring list, passing UIC’s Cedrick Banks.

ALL-TIME TOURNEY: This will mark the 21st appearance for Green Bay in the Horizon League Championship, dating back to its first appearance in 1995. The program has an all-time record of 17-19 at the Horizon League Championship, winning its lone tournament title back in 1995, its first season in the conference.

LEAGUE HONORS: The Horizon League honors were awarded last week, and Sykes was voted the Player of the Year for the second-straight season. In addition, senior Greg Mayswas elected to all-league second team and Jordan Fouse was tabbed to the all-league defensive team. Sykes is the first player since Detroit’s Rashad Phillips in 2000-01 to win back-to-back player of the year awards and the only Phoenix player other than Tony Bennett (1991, 1992) to win conference player of the year multiple times.

a-MAYS-ing: Mays played extremely well in Horizon League action, averaging 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. The Chicago native shot 94-of-177 from the field in conference action. In his career, Mays has 976 points, 516 rebounds and 106 blocks. With 39 this season, including 18 in league play, the 6-foot-9 forward now has 110 career dunks, believed to be the most in program history.

PHO SLAMMA JAMMA: In 2014-15, the Phoenix has 108 dunks in 31 games (3.5/game), with Mays tallying 39, McKinnie flushing 26 and Sykes slamming home 24. Sykes (3), McKinnie (2) and Mays (2) combined for seven dunks in Saturday’s win over UIC. The high-flying Phoenix was dubbed Pho Slamma Jamma by the Anchorage Daily News during the 2013 Great Alaska Shootout.

HANDS TEAM: Green Bay has accumulated 231 steals in 2014-15, tied for second-most on Green Bay’s all-time single-season steals list. In addition to the quick hands with the ball on the floor, the Phoenix has 158 blocks this season, ranking third on the single-season blocks list. Fouse has more steals than any junior in program history. Fouse already holds the freshman and sophomore records. Mays has a career-high 46 blocks this season, ninth most in program history. With four more blocks, Mays would have more blocks in a season than any player not named Alec Brown.

BOUNCIN’ BACK: Green Bay’s 72-67 win over UIC on Feb. 26 continued an impressive streak of bounce back performances by the Phoenix. With the win, Wardle’s team has now won 18-straight games following a regular season defeat, a streak dating back to the 2012-13 season. In the past two seasons, only five programs nationally have avoided consecutive losses in both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 regular seasons. Green Bay joins Arizona, Wichita State, Villanova and San Diego State on the list.

BIG LOSS, BIG RESPONSE: Green Bay lost Alec Brown (Winona, Minn.) from last season’s team which won the Horizon League’s regular season title and finished with a 24-7 overall record and a 14-2 mark in league play. Brown was selected with the 50th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns.

In the 35-year history of the Horizon League, Green Bay has more regular season wins than any other team the season after losing an NBA Draft pick. Head coach Brian Wardle’s team also posted a better regular season winning percentage and conference winning percentage than any other team that lost a draft pick. In fact, only the 2010-11 national runner-up Butler won more games overall (28) the season after losing a draft pick than this year’s Phoenix squad.

LEADING THE WAY: Sykes has been the starting point for the Phoenix for the past four seasons, starting 121 times entering Thursday night. Last week, Sykes was named one of 17 finalists for the 2015 Bob Cousy Award, handed out annually to the nation’s best point guard. Sykes joins Cleveland State’s Norris Cole (2011) and Ray McCallum (2012, 2013) as the lone league players with the honor.

DOUBLE-DIGIT DEJA VU: Sykes had scored in double figures in 37-straight games against Horizon League opponents before his streak ended at Valparaiso. The senior has scored in double figures in 68 of the past 71 contests overall, and since the beginning of his sophomore season, he has scored 10-plus in 88 of 94 games. Sykes scored 10-plus just twice in his first 13 games but has reached the mark in 103 of 111 games since turning 18 on Dec. 30, 2012.

FULL FOUSE: Junior Jordan Fouse, the three-time Horizon League All-Defensive selection, is having the best season of his career, averaging 7.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, two steals and 1.1 blocks per game. He now ranks second in Phoenix history in blocked shots (133) and fourth in steals (186). Fouse is now sixth all-time in career rebounds (724) after passing Gordon Patterson, Bryan Boettcher, James Bardney, Randy Berry and Jeff Nordgaard.

DYNAMIC DUO: Mays and Sykes combined for 57 points last Wednesday night against Detroit, the most in a single game by Phoenix teammates in the program’s Division I era. The last time two Green Bay players combined for at least 57 points was on Dec. 23, 1971, when Dennis Woelffer (32) and Leon Mitchell (27) totaled 59 in a win at Chicago State. Sykes and Mays rank second and fifth, respectively, in the Horizon League in scoring in league play.