- Associated Press - Saturday, December 7, 2013

ASHWAUBENON, Wis. — Tony Bennett shed tears at the start of his homecoming game.

But the fifth-year Virginia coach walked away from his return trip to Green Bay with good memories, despite his Cavaliers coming up short against his alma mater.

Led by a career-high 24 points from Greg Mays, Wisconsin-Green Bay pulled out a 75-72 win over Virginia on Saturday.

Brian Wardle called it the biggest home win for the Phoenix (5-2) in his fourth year as coach of the mid-major program, which knocked off one of the top teams in the expanded Atlantic Coast Conference.

“It means a lot for the team, for the program,” Green Bay junior guard Keifer Sykes said. “And to do it on this stage where Tony Bennett’s coming back, what he did for the university, and we’re playing a high-major team, an ACC team, it was just good to see all of the guys rise to the occasion.”

Sykes added 21 points, becoming the first Green Bay player since it went Division I in the 1981-82 season to score at least 20 points in six straight games.

Bennett helped put the Phoenix on the national map a decade later. The sharpshooting guard played for his father, Dick Bennett, at Green Bay from 1988-92, and the Phoenix made its first appearance in the NCAA tournament in 1991. Tony Bennett still holds the school record for career points (2,285) and assists (601).

Dick Bennett sat two rows up from the Virginia bench Saturday in Tony’s first game as a head coach in Green Bay.

The university marked the occasion with a video tribute on the scoreboard before the player introductions, and a big crowd of 6,491 then gave Tony Bennett a standing ovation for a couple minutes.

“That was special - it made my eyes water,” Bennett said. “That was very nice of those people, and I think Brian (Wardle) buttered me up so we’d start out like a bunch of softies like we did. But I’ll remember that for a while.”

The final result wasn’t what Bennett wanted, however, after his team made a late charge to erase a sizable Green Bay lead.

Sykes made two free throws for the Phoenix with 8.7 seconds left after Joe Harris missed a 3-pointer for Virginia. The Cavaliers (7-3) had a final chance to tie the score, but Justin Anderson missed a 3-point shot as the buzzer sounded.

Virginia fought back from a 13-point deficit early in the second half, tying the score at 69 on a 3-pointer from Malcolm Brogdon with 1:51 left. Brogdon led the Cavaliers with 17 points. Harris and Anthony Gill each added 12 points.

“Virginia is a very, very good team,” Wardle said. “We knew they were going to make that last push, a run. It was nice to have that cushion. I think having that little cushion of a 10-, 12-point lead was big because we knew that run was coming.”

Green Bay never lost the lead down the stretch after Brogdon’s score-tying 3.

Sykes, on a drive to the basket from the left side, dropped the basketball to Mays open on the right side for a lay-in to put the Phoenix back ahead at 71-69 on its next possession.

Jordan Fouse then intercepted a pass in the backcourt as Green Bay went with a full-court press on the ensuing inbound. Fouse finished off the big play with a drive down the lane for a layup to extend the lead to four points with 1:15 left. He set a single-game school record with eight steals as the Phoenix forced 14 turnovers.

“We made the big plays in the last two minutes, I thought, to win the game, and it came down to game-changing, momentum-changing plays at the end,” Wardle said.

A 3-pointer by Anderson at the 58-second mark cut the Virginia deficit to 73-72, leading to the frenetic final seconds of the game.

Bennett said Virginia had the shot it wanted from Anderson, who scored 10 points off the bench, to try to send the game into overtime after it advanced the ball past midcourt and called a timeout with 3.9 seconds left.

Anderson took the shot over Alec Brown, Green Bay’s 7-foot-1 senior standout, a few feet beyond the 3-point stripe up top, and the ball hit off the rim as the game ended.

“We had to get a 3,” Bennett said. “He got a good look.”

Virginia shot 50 percent (23-of-46) for the game — three days after the Cavaliers struggled to put the ball in the basket in a 48-38 home loss to No. 8 Wisconsin. The Cavaliers were a frigid 23.4 percent from the floor in that contest.

But the 75 points by Green Bay were the most scored against Virginia this season. The Cavaliers came into the game ranked No. 2 in the country for scoring defense, allowing 52.9 points per game.

Mays, a 6-9 junior who came in averaging 9.3 points, scored 12 points in each half. He finished 8-of-14 from the floor and 7-for-10 from the foul line.

Mays scored Green Bay’s first four points on an alley-oop dunk and a long jumper in the first two minutes and sensed he could have his biggest game as a Phoenix player.

“I was like, ‘OK, I’m kind of feeling it, so I’m going to try to keep letting it ride,’” Mays said.

The Phoenix shot 51 percent from the floor, including 7 of 14 from 3-point range.

Green Bay took a 37-31 halftime lead with a seven-point run to end the half. The Cavaliers kept the score tight for most of the first half despite having Harris, their top scorer, on the bench with two fouls for the last 13 ½ minutes.

After Virginia pulled within 37-35 early in the second half, Green Bay quickly pushed its lead to 13 points with an 11-0 run in less than two minutes.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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