Wednesday night Wright State lost for the fourth time in their last five games, falling 84-76 in overtime at Oakland. Billy Donlon’s team also took a hit to its depth in that defeat, with senior guard Kendall Griffin suffering a concussion during the second half. It was announced by Donlon on Friday that Griffin’s college career has come to an end as a result of multiple concussions.
Griffin, who started five of the eight games he played in this season, suffered two concussions this season and a total of five in the last 18 months. The 6-foot-4 Griffin averaged 8.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per game for the Raiders, who are 11-11 overall and 3-5 in Horizon League play.
“Under the circumstances, (his spirits) are as good as they can be,” Donlon said. “He is a mature young man. When he came back, he knew one more and it was over. He came back and came to grips with, there is a good possibility (of sustaining another concussion) because of the way he plays.”
Griffin suffered the first concussion in Wright State’s 73-70 season-opening win over Belmont and did not return to action until the team’s game at Green Bay January 5.
Freshman forward Roderick Davis, who played 22 minutes in the team’s loss at Milwaukee January 20 (a game Griffin left after just two minutes over fears that he’d suffered a concussion then), is one player who could see an increase in minutes moving forward. Davis played 37 minutes against Oakland, accounting for 17 points and seven rebounds.
Late Night Snacks: George Washington throttles DePaul
Two teams capable of contending in their respective conferences met in Nashville, with the Raiders winning by eight thanks in part to their shooting from beyond the arc. Billy Donlon’s Raiders made ten of their 15 three-pointers on the night, with Reggie Arceneaux, Grant Benzinger and JT Yoho hitting three apiece. Yoho finished with 16 points to lead the way for Wright State, which also beat Belmont 73-70 on November 14 in Dayton.
1. George Washington 81, DePaul 68
The Blue Demons entered Thursday’s game in the nation’s capital having won four straight, but they struggled on both ends of the floor against Mike Lonergan’s Colonials. DePaul committed 19 turnovers, and on the other end George Washington managed to shoot 57 percent from the field. Patricio Garino scored 19 points to lead the way for George Washington, with Joe McDonald and Kevin Larsen adding 18 apiece.
2. Missouri 78, Elon 73
After leading by 19 points at the half the Tigers had to hang on in the end, with the Phoenix pulling to within one in the game’s final minutes. The good news for Kim Anderson was that his team shot well from the foul line late, thus avoiding what would have been a very disappointing defeat. Keith Shamburger and Johnathan Williams III scored 16 apiece to lead the way for Missouri, with Elon reserve guard Luke Eddy leading all scorers with 27.
3. Eastern Washington 81, San Francisco 76
Jim Hayford’s Eagles, to this point in the season, have looked like the best team in the Big Sky and their win at San Francisco only strengthens that argument. Ognjen Miljkovic scored 20 points and Tyler Harvey added 19 for Eastern Washington, and as a team the Eagles shot 12-for-25 from three. Kruize Pinkins led the way for San Francisco with a career-high 30 points to go along with 14 rebounds.
1. Jay Harris (UIC)
Harris scored 32 points in the Flames’ 71-60 win over UCF.
2. Dennis Clifford (Boston College)
Clifford tallied 19 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and two steals in BC’s 85-74 win over Maine.
3. Kruize Pinkins (San Francisco)
Pinkins scored 30 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the Dons’ 81-76 loss to Eastern Washington.
Bearcats other than Dusan Perisic (7-for-14, 16 points) combined to shoot 8-for-29 from the field, and as a team they finished with more turnovers (18) than made field goals (15) in a 65-44 loss at Colgate.
2. Tommy Hamilton IV (DePaul)
Hamilton shot 1-for-6 from the field, scoring four points and grabbing six rebounds in the Blue Demons’ 81-68 loss at George Washington.
Garrett Covington scored 27 points to lead Western Illinois to a 78-75 win over Idaho.
Evan Bailey contributed 11 points and four rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench to help lead the College of Charleston to a 50-47 win over South Carolina State.
Johnny Dee and Christopher Anderson combined to score 39 points in San Diego’s 79-65 win at UCSB.
The Horizon League drew most of its attention from the college basketball general public in 2013-14 for regular-season champion Green Bay’s early exit from the league’s conference tournament. Considered by many to be the heavy favorite to make the 2014 NCAA Tournament after a 14-2 regular season mark in the conference, the Phoenix ultimately fell short in the semifinals as some analysts used the Green Bay loss — and subsequent NIT appearance — as an opportunity to blast the conference tournament method of NCAA Tournament selection.
While Green Bay was one of the better mid-major teams in the country during the regular season last year, they fell to Milwaukee at home in the tournament. But with four returning starters, the Phoenix are favored to win the league this season.
Even with the departure of senior center Alec Brown, who was selected in the second round of the NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns, head coach Brian Wardle still returns Horizon League Player of the Year favorite in senior point guard Keifer Sykes as well as forward Jordan Fouse,who might be the league’s best defensive player. Green Bay will miss the skill level of Brown on the interior, but they might actually have more interior depth this season as 6-foot-9 senior and double-figure scorer Greg Mays returns and Wardle recruited a few big bodies to bolster the rotation of big men that he can use.
Challenging Green Bay this season will Cleveland State, who has multiple all-league candidates, including senior point guard Charlie Lee, junior big man Anton Grady and junior guard Trey Lewis. Senior forward Marlin Mason acts as a stretch four and 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore Aaron Scales can play this season and gives the Vikings another big body on the interior.
The most intriguing team in the Horizon League this year could be Valparaiso, who returns 6-foot-10 rim protector Vashill Fernandez along with three talented sophomores — point guard Lexus Williams, forward Alec Peters and forward Jubril Adekoya — and Charlotte transfer E. Victor Nickerson. Bryce Drew’s ballclub went a surpring 9-7 in the league last season despite starting Adekoya, Peters and Williams as true freshmen.
Billy Donlon loses five of the top six scorers from a Wright State team that fell short in the conference tournament finals a season ago, but the Raiders return 5-foot-9 senior point guard Reggie Arceneaux along with 6-foot-6 sophomore J.T. Yoho and guard Crishawn Hopkins. Wright State had 10 players average double-figure minutes last season, so expect Donlon to go to his seven-man recruiting class early and often for depth.
Defending conference tournament champion Milwaukee will not represent the Horizon League again in the NCAA Tournament. This isn’t a bold prediction, but a truth, as the Panthers are ineligible for postseason for low APR scores. But three starters still return for Milwaukee, led by senior point guard Steve McWhorter and junior big man Matt Tiby and Northern Illinois transfer Akeem Springs should add some scoring punch on the wing.
Detroit has the pieces to surprise in the Horizon this season as senior wing Juwan Howard Jr., returns after a breakout junior season. If the son of the former Fab Five member can get some help from Colorado transfer Chris Jenkins or 6-foot-8 sophomore Paris Bass, the Titans could compete sooner than later. Bass, in particular, will be one to watch after sitting out last season.
Oakland now faces life in the post Travis Bader-era, as the NCAA’s all-time leader in three-pointers has graduated and moved on. The Golden Grizzlies will now have to rely on the inside-outside combination of senior big man Corey Petros and returning Horizon League Freshman of the Year Kahlil Fielder at point guard. St. John’s transfer Max Hooper, who shot 40 percent from three-point range in his final season in New York, will get a shot at replacing the prolific Bader.
PRESEASON HORIZON LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Keifer Sykes, Green Bay
One of the most dynamic point guards in the country, the 5-foot-11 senior puts up numbers all over the floor and usually rises to the occasion when Green Bay has a big game. A freak athlete with outstanding leaping ability and quickness, Sykes is a difference-maker on both ends of the floor and averaged 20.3 points, 4.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game in his junior season. The only thing missing on the resume for the senior is a trip to the NCAA Tournament and he’s focused on leading four returning starters to the Big Dance in 2014-15.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-HORIZON LEAGUE TEAM:
Juwan Howard Jr., Detroit – The son of former NBA veteran and Fab Five member Juwan Howard, the 6-foot-5 senior had a breakout junior season, averaging 18.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and also leading the Titans in assists.
Corey Petros, Oakland – A 6-foot-10, 260-pound senior, Petros is a load to handle on the interior and averaged 13.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game last season on 57 percent field goal shooting.
Alec Peters, Valparaiso – The 6-foot-9 sophomore had a huge impact as a freshman, averaging 12.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game on some impressive shooting splits for a player his size (49% FG, 77% FT, 38% 3PT).
Trey Lewis, Cleveland State – The Vikings have multiple all-league candidates but Lewis averaged 13.6 points per game as a sophomore and if the 6-foot-3 guard improves his shooting percentages, that number could climb greatly.
Through 16 games entering Friday night’s important Horizon League tilt at Wright State, Brian Wardle’s Green Bay Phoenix have been one of the league’s best offensive teams. Green Bay entered the game ranked second in the conference in scoring (78.9 ppg) and field goal percentage (48.1%), with guard Keifer Sykes and center Alec Brown being two of the key reasons why.
And that was once again the case on Friday night, as Brown (24 points, five rebounds) and Sykes (18, seven assists and six rebounds) led four Phoenix in double figures in Green Bay’s 79-69 victory. Greg Mays added 14 points and seven rebounds and Jordan Fouse scored ten points for Green Bay, which remains undefeated in conference play.
As a team the Phoenix were solid offensively, taking smart shots and that paid off as they shot 59.6% on the night. And when they didn’t attempt shots Green Bay got to the foul line, making 21 of their 26 attempts while shooting just four three-pointers (making two). If there’s one issue with Green Bay’s offensive performance it would be the 15 turnovers, more than two above their season average (12.4). However due to what the Phoenix were able to do when they took care of the basketball, those turnovers didn’t have the impact that they could have in the end.
Reggie Arceneaux scored 17 points to lead five Wright State players in double figures, but with the defeat they fall two games behind Green Bay in the loss column atop the Horizon League standings. And the separation gained by Green Bay is important given the league’s conference tournament setup. The top two seeds receive byes to the semifinals, with the top seed hosting the quarterfinals and semis and the title game being played on the home floor of the highest remaining seed.
Green Bay still has 12 Horizon League games to play, but with a 4-0 record (14-3 overall) and a two-game lead on the field (in the loss column) they took a step in the right direction on Friday night. And given the nature of conference tournaments in smaller leagues, it never hurts to have those games on your home floor.