If something could have gone wrong for Green Bay on Saturday night, it seemed like it would. But maybe the problems started before the Phoenix ever took the floor against Milwaukee in the Horizon League semifinals.
Perhaps the biggest problem was having to go against the Panthers in the first place. This is a team that gave Green Bay fits, and really has the size to compete with any team in the country. And to think that most of this team is really young, and they will only be better and more experienced next season.
Yeah, it is that team, a team with size and with this shooter named Jordan Aaron that can befuddle Green Bay. Not to mention Austin Arians, who has the range to move outside just like the guards on his own team.
This was not a good matchup for Green Bay and maybe the one team it would rather hadn't appeared on the bracket across from it.
But then things got worse. Keifer Sykes stumbled and twisted his ankle in the first half. Alec Brown looked sick and tired, and then bumped his already tender shoulder.
Things were falling apart in front of the home crowd, and eventually would fall apart for good as Green Bay fell to the Panthers 73-66 in overtime.
For the first time since the Horizon League went to this format of playing the quarters and semis at the home of the No. 1 seed and then potentially moving the championship to the home of the higher seed, they will have to move the championship.
Because everyone drew up the Wright State - Milwaukee final. Of course they did.
But give a lot of credit to Milwaukee which withstood the Green Bay defense, and got around the Phoenix in the first half to build a lead that was going to test the No. 1 seed on its way back.
Credit Jordan Aaron who refused to stop pushing even after Sykes gutted it out and led the charge for the Phoenix. Aaron had the answer each time that Milwaukee needed it. He went 4-for-8 from 3-point range. He made almost 50 percent of his shots. He finished with 28 points.
In the past two games over the last two nights, the senior has 48 points, in what is becoming a Tournament MVP type of performance, especially if you add in the 16 he scored against Detroit in the opening round.
Or maybe it should be Matt Tiby who cut his hair before the quarterfinal game and looks more imposing without the mop that used to dangle from his brow. He had 15 points and 10 rebounds, and despite drawing four fouls and the ire of every Phoenix fan (and probably every other fan other than his own in the building), he remained intense and important in the middle throughout. And he is just a sophomore, part of the core that will have Milwaukee back in the top half of the league next season, and possibly back competing for this same Horizon League crown.
Now, we would be remiss if we didn't point out the comeback that Green Bay tried in this one. Keifer Sykes was playing on one foot, and no one could guard him still. He hobbled around and struggled to keep the grimaces from his face. And he still scored and passed and did all the things that a healthy Keifer Sykes would do.
He just didn't score in the first half and that really hampered the Phoenix. They aren't used to that.
But they are used to the leadership he showed after the break on his bum tire, scoring 15 points and almost making the heave at the end of regulation that would have been the miracle basket for the Phoenix.
Combined, Sykes and Brown went just 7-for-26 from the floor, and that is what ultimately doomed the Phoenix. All that comeback wouldn't have been needed if they could have just shot a little better in that opening 20 minutes.
As it was, Greg Mays led Green Bay in scoring with 17 points, and he added nine rebounds. But without Sykes and Brown to combine with, it was not enough.
And so the Phoenix will have to wait and see if there is any glimmer of hope for the NCAA Tournament. This was a team poised to make some noise in March, and now it seems likely that noise will come in the NIT, instead of the big dance. This wasn't the way that Brown was supposed to go out, without showing off his draftability in Tournament. And yet, that may be what happens, given the missing big wins, and the lower RPI spot for the Phoenix.
Instead we will turn our attention to Dayton and whether there is still some magic in this Milwaukee team that tried to give the game away in the final minute and still found a way to win. They made silly fouls; they made bad turnovers, and they still came out on top.
We will learn more about Aaron, Arians and Tiby and determine if this team has any chance in the Dance should they get past the Raiders.
Based on their performance against the Phoenix, however hobbled and battered they were, the answer might be yes.