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Horizon League Tournament Final: Green Bay goes dancing for 5th time in program history

The Phoenix will make their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 1996.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Green Bay controlled the Horizon League championship game nearly the entire way, topping Wright State 78-69. The Phoenix won four games over the course of four days to make their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament field in the past two decades.

Wright State opened the contest by taking an early 6-4 lead at the 17:19 mark of the first half. That would be the one and only lead the Raiders held all night.

A Jamar Hurdle jumper capped off an 11-0 run for the Phoenix that spanned the next 3:45 of game time. Linc Darner's crew would push the lead all the way to 15 on a Jordan Fouse layup with 8:28 remaining in the first half. The Raiders showed some life, cutting the Green Bay lead down to 30-25 just before the under-four media timeout. But after the break, the Phoenix finished the half with a 12-5 spurt to give them a 42-30 advantage at the half.

Possibly showing some fatigue from the previous three days, both teams started the second half slow before Mark Hughes hit a 3-pointer from the corner to bring the Raiders within nine. It was as close as Billy Donlon's club would get for the rest of the game until their last-minute attempt at a desperate comeback.

Justin Mitchell scored a layup with 14:43 to go cut the Green Bay lead back to 12. Donlon promptly instructed his defense to get into a zone and it looked like it just might work. The Phoenix air-balled 3-pointers on their first two attempts to break the zone, but the Raiders couldn't take advantage on the other end. Jordan Fouse solved the puzzle for Green Bay on their third crack at the zone with a drive and finish at the rim. Before you knew it, the Phoenix were up 19 and they held on to the lead all the way to the finish by making a flurry of free throws.

The story of the game was Green Bay's balance offensively. A night after Fouse, Carrington Love and Charles Cooper scored 72 of the Phoenix's 99 points against Valparaiso, all five starters were in double figures, with no single player shooting more than 10 field goal attempts. Conversely, JT Yoho scored just 8 points on 2 of 16 shooting for the Raiders. In Wright State's previous three games in the tournament, Yoho had been averaging 16.7 points per game on 51 percent shooting.

After losing Phoenix legend Keifer Sykes and head coach Brian Wardle a year ago, the championship capped off an incredible year for Green Bay. Darner will be making his first appearance in the Division 1 NCAA Tournament as a head coach. He does have experience in the postseason. Around this time last year, he was leading Florida Southern to a Division 2 national championship. He also made an Elite Eight run back in his playing days with Purdue.

The road will be much tougher for Green Bay this year, as they figure to be a 15- or 16-seed when the brackets come out. But with the ability that this experienced Phoenix group showed on both ends of the floor over the course of the last four days, they'll be a tough out for many of the big boys.