18 long years. The members of the Green Bay mens Basketball team were toddlers the last time the Phoenix were conference champions. They celebrated like kids after ending the long drought Thursday night at the Resch Center, defeating the two time defending Horizon League champion Valparaiso Crusaders 67-53 before a raucus and appreciative crowd of 3564.
An even bigger reward than the new hats passed out after the game was earning the right to host the Horizon League tournament as the number one seed. Green Bay will receive a double bye into the semifinals and need to win two games at home to earn a trip to the NCAA dance.
On senior night, 7-1 center Alec Brown and transfer forward Vince Garrett were honored before the game. Brown then brought out his fly swatter arms, blocking eight shots, pulling down five rebounds and scoring 14 points. Kiefer Sykes led Green Bay with 19, Jordan Fouse delivered a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds and Alfonzo McKinnie hit a couple of big shots for a season high 9 points in 16 minutes after missing nearly the entire season with a knee injury.
The Phoenix raced out to a 13-2 lead in the opening six minutes but the Crusaders kept battling back. McKinnie's step back three just before halftime put Green Bay up 30-27 at the break. Another double digit lead melted early in the second half as Valpo closed to within four, but Green Bay started getting to the free throw line and cashed in, hitting 22 of 25 from the stripe to seal the victory and start the celebration. That included cutting down the nets and Head Coach Brian Wardle finished it off.
Green Bay imrpoves to 22-5 on the season, far and away the best of Wardle's four year tenure as coach. They are 12-2 in the Horizon League with two games remaining next week, at Oakland and at Detroit. Those games can wait. They waited an awfully long time to celebrate.