When you are the lead dog, there is always someone nipping at your heels. That is the situation that Green Bay walked into Thursday night at the start of Horizon League play facing Cleveland State.
The Phoenix showed that they belong in the Alpha Dog spot after a 66-55 win.
It wasn't smooth sailing for Brian Wardle's team by any means. They came out cold -- understandably given the extreme temperatures that were stalking the Midwest -- and committed nine turnovers in the first half, a combination that saw them down at halftime.
But it was quite possibly the breather that they needed. After the break, they let the ball get away only three times, and some a couple of those came when the game was already in hand. It was more like the real Phoenix team came out of the locker room after halftime, replacing the shaky, jittery one, one that was't used to being the lead dog.
Everything just came together for them, including the play of their top three.
Jordan Fouse had 15 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals in 35 minutes. But more important, he missed just a single shot in the game, part of a magnificent shooting effort for Green Bay.
Keep in mind that this team went almost six minutes without a basket in the first half, a result of those turnovers and some unlucky bounces for sure, but they still finished shooting 55 percent, including going 5-for-12 from behind the arc.
Here was a team that was sharing the ball (16 assists total for the game), and finding that open man cutting to the hoop.
And they were generating their own offense with eight steals. This is why Green Bay should be feared going into this Horizon season. They just made Cleveland State, who played tough defense and just couldn't keep up with all the Phoenix weapons, look very ordinary.
Alec Brown was the player that we touted in the preseason, with 17 points (including 2-for-4 from three) and five blocks. Keifer Sykes scored 15 points of his own. Impressive, or at least, a warning shot for the rest of the conference.
The one concern? Perhaps the offensive rebounding for the Phoenix. Green Bay grabbed just three of 23 total chances on the offensive glass. It didn't hurt them tonight -- these things seldom will when you shoot as well as they did and defend like they did -- but a small worry if you have to pick one.