Linc Darner

Wisconsin-Green Bay head coach Linc Darner holds up the net after leading the Phoenix to the Horizon League Tournament championship on March 8 in Detroit.

ANDERSON — What else would be expected of Linc Darner?

In the first year as coach of the NCAA Division I Green Bay Phoenix, Darner has gotten his men's basketball team into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996.

No. 14-seed Green Bay faces No. 3 Texas A&M at 7:20 p.m. today in Oklahoma City.

It is, for all intents and purposes, a pretty good curtain call from his 2015 coaching accomplishment — winning the Division II national championship at Florida Southern.

"Without a doubt this is what I've always wanted as a coach — to be one of the 68 teams," said Darner in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "This is a bigger stage than I've ever coached on."

But not a bigger stage than the one he played on. In his senior season as a player at Purdue, this Highland High School graduate led the Boilermakers to a Big Ten title and a berth in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

In high school he played for his father, Alan, who won a pair of state championships at Pike. "He is excited for us," said Darner about his father. "He's driving (to Oklahoma City) from Florida now."

Going to the NCAA Tournament wasn't just a pipe dream for the Phoenix. "The last 12 months has been an unbelievable ride," said Darner. "It is a dream come true, but it was something we talked about from day one."

But from day one, things weren't always a bed of roses. "We had 17 of our first 26 games on the road," said Darner. "We knew it might be rough early on. We knew we'd have growing pains. But we played well that last five games leading up to the (Horizon League) tournament."

The Phoenix won every league tournament game by at least nine points save the overtime thriller against Valparaiso.

The Green Bay style is not that different from the one used by Florida Southern during Darner's nine years there.

"We play the way I always like to coach," said Darner. "We try to get easy baskets as early as we can. We led the nation in total steals. We make teams play faster than they are comfortable playing."

The transition was a little easier because not many of the Phoenix players had a lot of varsity experience. Seniors Jordan Fouse and Carrington Love. Fouse has 11 double-doubles on the season and is the team career record holder for steals. Love is third in the nation this season in steals.

"None of the others had played much before this season," said Darner. "None of the guys have any experience in the NCAA Tournament." So he will attempt to impart some of his tourney experiences.

"Hopefully I can help a little bit," said Darner. "On (Tuesday) we had one of our better practices this season. I think we are ready to play a good game."

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