By Greg Bates
ACN & Times-Press sports correspondent
GREEN BAY — Little kids were in awe as Sandy Cohen III signed autographs. Adults stood nearby with smiles on their faces after watching their favorite basketball player in action.
Cohen was back in northeastern Wisconsin. It was almost like he’d never left.
Droves of fans came from Seymour and the Oneida community to the Resch Center on Thursday night as Cohen played his first game for the Green Bay men’s basketball game. Cohen, who graduated from Seymour in 2014, missed his team’s first 11 games of this season after transferring from Marquette University.
“It felt really good to get back out on the court,” said Cohen after the game. “The game felt a little fast at first, the first couple minutes felt pretty fast. But as the game went on, I settled in and felt a little bit more comfortable.”
Cohen, who is a redshirt junior, was even in the starting lineup and finished with 16 points, six rebounds and one assist. But it wasn’t enough as the Phoenix fell 81-78 in overtime to Bowling Green in non-conference play.
The six-foot-six, 200 pound guard had to shake off some rust, seeing his first action in a college basketball game since Nov. 17, 2016. He missed his first two shots from the field, was just 1-for-6 from 3-point range and hit only 3 of 7 free throws.
“I felt like that really hurt the team today,” Cohen said. “In a couple ways I feel like this loss was on me, even though this is my first game back that is really not an excuse for me. I’m a good player, I have to step up to the line and I have to knock down my free throws and make big plays for this team.”
Cohen started to heat up late in the second half. He drained a 3-pointer with 1:28 remaining to give Green Bay a 60-58. After Bowling Green tied it, the next trip down, Cohen hit a pull-up jumper with 39.9 seconds left to put his team back up.
Bowling Green once again tied it. After Green Bay called a timeout, Cohen received a pass with six seconds left. He tried to drive the lane but slipped and wasn’t able to get a shot off.
Giving the ball to Cohen for the final shot in regulation certainly shows Green Bay coach Linc Darner has a lot of confidence in his new player.
“We went to him there because he had just hit two,” Darner said. “He hit the 3 and then came off the ball screen and hit the pull-up. It’s a play we put in yesterday and we had Khalil (Small) in the corner, so if they had help he could kick it to Khalil. Just lost his footing.”
Cohen loved the opportunity to be the guy who was relied to hit the game-winning shot. That’s something he hasn’t experienced since his Seymour days. Cohen averaged 21.3 points per game as a senior with the Thunder and went into his freshman year at Marquette as a highly-touted player. He played in 66 games over two-plus seasons with the Golden Eagles, averaging 4.6 points and 2.3 rebounds. However, he only played a total of 19 minutes in Marquette’s first four games of the 2016-17 season and decided to transfer to the nearest Division I to where he grew up.
With so many other viable scoring options at Marquette, Cohen was just another player.
“At Marquette I wasn’t much of a focal point, so it’s a good feeling to know that my teammates and the whole coaching staff that they all trusted me to have the ball in my hands at the end of the game,” Cohen said. “There’s no other feeling like that – that’s the best feeling.”
Cohen loves being, “the guy.” He’ll have a shot to be that player at Green Bay. The Phoenix has been in search of a main scorer all season in its RP40 – relentless pressure for 40 minutes – style of play under coach Darner. Only one player, Small, is averaging double-digit points per game. Cohen could provide the offensive spark-plug the team has been needing.
“I’m just going to be aggressive,” Cohen said. “I’m going to look to make plays for this team and hopefully next game I knock down more shots, because I feel like I had some good looks and they weren’t falling for me. Maybe because of nerves, maybe not. But hopefully next game I provide a little more proficient scoring.”
Cohen already knows his role on the team.
“My role on this team is the same as everyone else’s: come out, play hard every day and give 100 percent effort and if you have an open shot, take that shot with confidence,” Cohen said.
Cohen hasn’t totally missed a beat being away from game action. Under NCAA rules, he was able to practice with the team at the start of this season, but he wasn’t able to play until the 12th game. But he’s built camaraderie with his teammates since the start of the season.
“I would say it’s not too much different than practice,” Cohen said. “A lot of things we do in practice we correlate to the court as well, so it’s pretty the same but it’s just the game speed and everything is faster. You’ve got to be faster, stronger, smarter. You’ve got to be one play ahead of the defense.”
The more Cohen gets on the court early in the season – he logged 35 minutes his first game – the quicker he’ll get acclimated to the speed of Division I basketball.
It wasn’t easy for Cohen not to be able to play in a game for 13 months. Now, he’s ready to go.
“It’s kind of tough when you see your team out there and you know you can help your team,” Cohen said. “But I used this year to get stronger mentally, physically, and it gave me a whole different perspective on the game.
“I just feel truly blessed to play this game and every game I want to give 100 percent effort.”
Sandy Cohen makes his return to basketball as he slam dunks the ball into the hoop for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Cohen had to sit out the first 11 games after transferring from the University of Marquette.- Photo courtesy of Mike Roemer of UWGB
By Greg Bates