By Murray Gleffe
GREEN BAY – Not even Green Bay Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur in attendance could stop the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay men’s basketball team’s losing streak.
The Phoenix dropped a 79-67 Horizon League game to Cleveland State Feb. 20 at the Kress Events Center.
“I told the guys we improved from Friday,” Green Bay Head Coach Will Ryan said. “Cleveland State is a good team. They come at you in waves with big, strong and physical kids. (Cleveland State) Head Coach Gates did a phenomenal job when he took over. The experience is showing now with them winning games.”
The Vikings shot 62.5% from the field and had a 46-30 edge in paint points.
Cade Meyer led the Phoenix with a career-high 20 points, while fellow freshman Kamari McGee chipped in 16.
Manny Ansong, who entered the contest averaging 11 points per game, didn’t score in 20 minutes of action.
“I think (Ansong) enjoys being Robin instead of Batman,” Ryan said. “That role maybe suits him better. He’s like an old soul. He doesn’t say much. I don’t know what goes through his head. I wish I knew. We still love him. Hopefully, we can still get a few smiles out of him before the season is over with.”
Cleveland State (19-7, 15-4) was led by Tre Gomillion’s game-high 27 points.
In addition, Yahel Hill and D’Moi Hodge had 15 and 11 points, respectively.
Green Bay hung right with league-leading Cleveland State for the entire first half.
Ryan Claflin hit nothing but nylon to give the Phoenix an early 16-15 lead.
A bit later, after Meyer connected on a hook in the lane, the Vikings grabbed the lead back near the end of the first half with a strong interior presence and extension of their pressure defense out to half court.
Cleveland State took a 34-31 lead into halftime.
Neither team had more than a two-possession margin the first six minutes of the second half.
Japannah Kellogg notched the game at 44-44 after scoring on a conventional three-point play.
After the Vikings regained the lead with two dunks by Hodge and Gomillion to go up six points, the Phoenix went on a 10-2 run, ignited by a Nate Jenkins triple and three hard-earned field goals by McGee.
The last of McGee’s buckets put Green Bay up 54-52 with about 10 minutes remaining.
“Kamari is one of those guys who uses his quickness to alleviate the pressure,” Ryan said. “He got downhill and was able to get some things going for us.”
Unfortunately, the Phoenix didn’t have the sustainability to hang with Cleveland State.
The Vikings, with their top seven scorers being seniors, showcased their wisdom by going on a 17-5 spurt for a 69-59 lead with four minutes remaining.
The dagger was the defensive lap Green Bay had to end the run.
Up five points, Hill scored on a layup and was fouled for Cleveland State.
He missed the subsequent free throw, but Green Bay let Hill waltz into the lane, grab the rebound and put in the basket.
The ending charity make left the Phoenix down double digits.
Green Bay got no closer than seven points the rest of the way, as the Vikings closed out the road victory.
“The goal all along was to get a majority of young kids and develop them,” Ryan said. “So, by the time they are sophomores, juniors and finally seniors, you see the strides and improvement by those latter years. The landscape of college recruiting has changed, and everybody wants to get old and stay old. Hopefully, we keep these pieces together and continue to grow.”
Green Bay hits the road against the University of Illinois Chicago Feb. 24 and IUPUI Feb. 26 before learning its fate for the upcoming Horizon League tournament.