By Greg Bates
ASHWAUBENON – Like so many games early this season, the Green Bay men’s basketball team stayed with its opponent early in a game.
The Phoenix trailed Milwaukee 35-32 late in the opening half, but the Panthers went on a 20-5 run to pull away. Milwaukee closed out with an 81-67 victory to keep Green Bay winless in both teams’ Horizon League opener on Thursday at the Resch Center.
“We’ve definitely got to clean stuff up,” Green Bay coach Will Ryan said. “It makes a world of difference, if you can make some shots.”
Green Bay (0-7, 0-1) converted just 4-for-23 (17.4%) from 3-point range and was 17-for-28 (60.7%) from the free throw line.
Milwaukee (6-3, 1-0 Horizon League) on the other hand shot 54.5% overall from the field, hitting 24-for-39 (61.5%) of its two-point field goals.
Ryan — whose team shot 40.4% overall from the field in the loss — said during every practice his players work on finishing around the rim, 3-point shooting and free throws.
“If we were good at one of those three things, the season’s going to be different,” Ryan said. “Then it also jumpstarts your energy on the defensive end and then other teams will get tight if, hey, we can’t shake these guys. Getting to the line and making those free throws, that helps stop runs, too.
“When I watch the film, of our 23 3-pointers that we took, I would probably venture to say that close to 17, 18 of them were good looks.”
Green Bay had 15 offensive rebounds to Milwaukee’s seven, but when the Phoenix got extra possessions, it couldn’t convert.
The two teams had a back-and-forth opening half with nine lead changes.
A Randy Tucker basket with 8:50 remaining in the first gave Green Bay its biggest advantage, 23-19. Milwaukee responded with a 10-2 run to go up 29-25.
The Phoenix had its deficit down to three, 35-32, after a Cade Meyer hoop with 1:56 remaining in the first. However, the Panthers closed out the half by forcing a pair of Green Bay turnovers that turned into transition layups to cap an 8-1 spurt to go up 43-33.
“I think it was the last 14 possessions, we had six turnovers,” Ryan said. “As a coach, when you’re struggling, you’re always searching — searching for answers. What are our lineups? Who can we count on to do this or that? I don’t know if it’s fatigue for some guys where they get nonchalant turnovers. Some of the guys are still trying to figure out what it takes to play in our system in terms of ball toughness, pass fakes, shot fakes, just chinning the ball. We preach it every day. We work on it every day. There are a few guys that haven’t quite bought into that part — they’re trying, but we’re still trying to break some bad habits in that area. Ball security against a team that likes to pressure you and tries to
get you to cough it up, we were taking care of the ball, we were doing great things. But all of a sudden that’s kind of been the M.O. of our season where we have these lapses and then it bleeds over to the defensive end.”
Milwaukee kept its defensive pressure up in the second half and extended its run to 20-5 to take its biggest lead of the night, 55-37, with 13:23 left in the game.
A basket by Green Bay’s Clarence Cummings III cut it to an 11-point contest, 58-47. However, Milwaukee went on another run — this time 11-1 — to slam the door on Green Bay’s shot at a comeback victory.
Green Bay’s Davin Zeigler did play in the game and was on the bench with a boot on his left foot. According to Ryan, the junior guard sustained a lower leg injury during practice on Wednesday. He’s day-to-day to return to action.
Randy Tucker started in Zeigler’s place and scored 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting from the field.
The Phoenix got a game-high 19 points from Meyer, who hit 9 of 15 shots. Brock Heffner added 12 points and Zae Blake chipped in 10.
The Panthers were led by Ahmad Rand with 13 points.
Still in search of that elusive first win of the season, Green Bay will host IUPUI on Dec. 5 for a rare Monday matinee at 11 a.m. The Jaguars are 1-6 overall this year and have yet to play a conference game.
“We’re going to continue to work on generating good looks and finishing around the rim and we’re going to continue to shoot a lot of free throws,” Ryan said. “Then it’s on our guys too to come in and get extra work. We have some gym rats and they get in and get extra shots up. But are you making shots when you’re in there or are you just in there to shoot and show your face. Those two things are different.”
By Greg Bates