GREEN BAY WINS HORIZON LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP TO EARN FIRST NCAA TOURNAMENT BID IN 20 YEARS
Let's DanceJosh Berenter—Olympia Entertainment Copywriter
The day that Linc Darner arrived on the Green Bay campus for his first year as head coach of the men’s basketball team, he called senior guard Carrington Love into his office.
Darner, who was coming off a Division II National Championship at Florida Southern, told Love that if he works hard, buys into his system and leads the team the right way, Green Bay was going to end up in the NCAA Tournament.
On Tuesday night, Darner delivered on his promise as Green Bay cruised to a 78-69 victory over Wright State to win the 2016 Little Caesars Horizon League Men’s Basketball Championship at Joe Louis Arena.
The win also gave Green Bay an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996.
“What an unbelievable job by our guys,” Darner said. “They battled through everything and competed. Four games in four days, and found a way to get it done once again. I thought we played extremely well tonight.”
The No. 4-seed Phoenix were led in the title game by tournament MVP Jordan Fouse, who scored 16 points and added eight rebounds in Green Bay’s fourth win in as many days en route to the tournament crown.
Green Bay started hot in the championship game with a 13-0 run in the first eight minutes, and the Phoenix never looked back.
All five Green Bay starters scored in double figures, and the Phoenix shot 47 percent from the floor to earn their first tournament bid in 20 years.
“This is definitely one of the best days of my life,” Fouse said. “We worked hard all year. We’ve been working hard all four years, and it finally paid off. Coach Darner, he’s a great coach. He told us since Day 1 that he was going to get us to the NCAA Tournament, and he kept his word.”
Darner’s mantra of relentless pressure for 40 minutes was in full effect on Tuesday night as Green Bay forced the tournament’s No. 3 seed to shoot just 37 percent from the floor, while holding the Raiders’ leading scorer, senior forward JT Yoho, to eight points, while shooting 2-for-17.
Senior leadership carried the Phoenix throughout the tournament as Fouse and Love combined to average 31.8 points per game in the Horizon League’s first-ever postseason tournament in Detroit.
Love, who set a tournament record with seven steals in his team’s first Motor City Madness win on Saturday, said his team bought in to Darner’s run-and-gun system from Day 1, and they trusted their new coach to guide them to the big dance.
“His resume impressed me. Last year his team lost one game,” Love said. “I knew he would come in and help us achieve what we’ve been trying to achieve since we got to college.”
After local teams Detroit and Oakland were eliminated from the championship, Green Bay became the tournament darlings, defeating the No. 1-seed Valparaiso Crusaders in a 99-92 semifinal overtime thriller before defeating Wright State in the championship game.
With the semifinal win over the heavily-favored No. 1 seed, Green Bay avenged a loss to Valpo in last season’s tournament championship game, and in doing so, started proving doubters wrong.
Since Green Bay’s devastating loss to Valpo last season, the Phoenix have played with a chip on their shoulder, and felt like they had something to prove.
“We’ve appeared in every game our whole four years, and won 24 games in two seasons back-to-back, and we still got no credit,” Love said about himself and Fouse. “It kind of helped to our advantage, giving us more motivation with people looking at us as the underdog. And it’s a great story in the end.”