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Green Bay wins thriller, will face Valparaiso in Horizon League semifinals

Green Bay's Sultan Muhammad puts up game winning three point shot final seconds against UIC Friday night during HorizLeague tournament

Green Bay's Sultan Muhammad puts up the game winning three point shot in the final seconds against UIC Friday night during Horizon League tournament play at Valparaiso University. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 10, 2013 6:18AM



VALPARAISO — Regardless of its opponent in the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament, Valparaiso knew it would be facing a team it had already swept during the regular season. After all, the top-seeded Crusaders (24-7) had gone 8-0 against the initial four possibilities.

On Friday night, the Crusaders learned it will be No. 4 Green (18-14), which stunned No. 5 UIC (17-15) 64-63 at the Athletics-Recreation Center in the tournament’s second round on Sultan Muhammad’s 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds left.

“For our guys, we’ve had the same type of practice that we’ve had,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said after Green Bay’s win. “We’ve been preparing for both teams because we didn’t know who we were going to play. The nice thing now, we can start to focus on one team for the next 24 hours. Obviously, they’re going to be coming in with a lot of emotion.”

In Friday’s first game, No. 3 Wright State (20-11) held off No. 6 Youngstown State (17-15) 66-59, setting up Saturday night’s first semifinal against No. 2 Detroit (20-11).

The Phoenix, who the Crusaders beat 75-56 in Green Bay to close the regular season, will be making their first appearance in the semifinals since 2009.

“You just have to forget about the last game if it was a bad one, and move on,” Green Bay’s Alec Brown said. “I think we have a good shot. We’re playing well together. We’ll see tomorrow.”

Phoenix coach Brian Wardle — who was emphatically calling for a timeout on Muhammad’s go-ahead shot against UIC — said his team watched a lot of film the day after that most recent Valparaiso game, breaking down ways to improve the defense.

“They (the Crusaders) exposed us,” he said. “… We have to do a better job of controlling tempo.

“We have to come out way more focused. If you make mental mistakes against Valpo, they’ll punish you, because they’re such a good shooting team. They’re one of the better teams I’ve seen in the Horizon League.”

In a close game throughout against UIC on Friday, Muhammad nailed what proved to be the game-winning shot, after Gary Talton had given the Flames a 63-61 lead with 7.0 seconds left with two free throws. The plan was for all-league first-team guard Keifer Sykes to drive, but he wound up kicking it out to Muhammad on the right wing.

“Actually, Coach wanted a timeout, but we didn’t get it,” Muhammad said, as Wardle interjected “thank goodness.” “He saw that I was open, and I had to take the opportunity. With the time winding down, I didn’t have a choice.”

Said Wardle, who has seen such scenarios go both ways: “I was trying to call timeout. But luckily in the chaos of the game, the noise, they didn’t hear me or see me.”

Brown had 17 points for Green Bay, Sykes 12 and Muhammad 10. Valparaiso High graduate Hayden Humes had a career-high 23 on 10-of-12 shooting for UIC.

“As much as it hurts, it indicates how far this group has come over the course of the season … I can’t say enough about the heart of this team,” Flames coach Howard Moore said.

In Friday’s first game, Wright State led by as many as 18 points in the second half — having led 33-19 at halftime, with Youngstown State shooting 29.6 percent, having zero assists, and going eight-plus minutes without a field goal during one stretch as the Raiders put together a 14-1 run — before the Penguins twice drew as close as three points. After the first such occasion, at 56-53 with 3:36 left, Reggie Arceneaux responded with a key 3-pointer.

“You stay composed,” Arceneaux said. “That’s the most important thing.”

Said Raiders coach Billy Donlon: “There’s never a dull moment in Horizon League basketball.”

Miles Dixon led Wright State with 14 points. Jerran Young and A.J. Pacher had 13 each, and Arceneaux added 11.

Kamren Belin had a game-high 20 points for Youngstown State. Damian Eargle had 13 and eight rebounds. And after missing the previous four games with a knee injury, all-league first-teamer Kendrick Perry had 11 points — all in the second half — coming off the bench and playing five minutes in the first half, before playing the entire second.

“Whether it was 10 minutes, 40 minutes or three minutes, I just wanted to go out there and try to contribute to the best of my ability,” Perry said.

“Physically, I don’t think there was any rust. Mentally, it kind of held me back attacking-wise in the first half.”

All-league second-teamer Cole Darling (foot) missed his fifth straight game for the Raiders, who had enough to hang on for the win, particularly with their staunch defense.

“I thought we battled back and did a tremendous job,” Penguins coach Jerry Slocum said. “We couldn’t finish it.”

Wright State and Detroit split during the regular season, with each team winning on the road.

“It’s just another game,” Arceneaux said. “It’s what’s next. What we did against Youngstown and previous games, it doesn’t matter.”

Donlon said of the Titans: “They’re really good. They have some of the best guys in the league offensively and defensively. … For us, we have to make it a possession game. If it’s a 70- or 80-possession game, it’s probably not good for us.”



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