The Raiders started off Horizon League play against Purdue Fort Wayne at the Mastodons’ stadium, a squad that had turned around nearly the entire starting lineup from last year with transfers from other universities. A team that had quietly been making some noise during the non-conference, the Mastodons were the one of the three teams that had entered conference play with a record of at least .500, recording wins over an Austin Peay squad that went on to beat Dayton and going 1-2 in their MTE of the season. The Raiders, conversely, had not yet managed a win against a Division 1 squad, a far cry from what they were expected to be doing at the start of the season. This game would be the first test for the Raiders to see if they would be able to compete in the Horizon after a lot of uncertainty, and if they do manage to beat this Mastodon squad, then Wright State can claim their transitional Gem City Jam trophy for the year.
The contest against the Mastodons started as a track meet. No one was able to defend either side, matching point for point in every possession, usually with both sides finding success getting under the rim to force layups. Fort Wayne saw its biggest lead at 26-22 midway through the first half, but then a lull took over the scoring for the Mastodons and that was all Wright State needed to pull ahead, going on a 11 point run to take the lead for good in the contest. By half time, the two worst defenses in the league created a score of 47-35 in the Raiders’ favor.
AJ Braun’s first official start was exactly what the Raiders needed to rejuvenate the offense as he combined with Basile to power past the undersized Purdue defense. Easy layups in the paint from the two big men saw the offense create production that I haven’t seen a Raider squad match in a couple years, ending the half at a 75% shooting clip. While that percentage is astounding, it was also matched by the squad turning over the ball with their usual frequency, hitting seven of them before the ten minute mark of the half.
The half continued with the Raiders towering over the Mastodons, creating chance after chance underneath the rim that Basile and Braun were able to take advantage of. If neither of the big men were available, Tanner Holden was able to create separation for himself and drive to the rim with a force and grace that is a joy to watch. As the Mastodons tried to create points from the three point range, the Raiders grew their lead to as many as 18 by the middle of the second half, leading 67-49, and kept their double digit lead all the way through the half against a defense that could not solve the Raiders’ offensive efficiency.
Four players saw double digit points in the contest as the squad shot at a insane 69% from the floor and out-rebounded the Mastodons by a +13 margin. Led by another 20+ point game by Tanner Holden, his fourth in a row, Basile, Calvin, and Braun all saw success driving the paint and created an additional 50 points for the Raiders. The game also finally snapped the Raiders’ five game losing streak and felt like a breath of fresh air. Nagy seems to have found the starter he needed to step up from the bench in AJ Braun; however, this does pigeon-hole the offense into being centered around the rim. Only twelve attempts were made by the Raiders from deep, and the majority of them came from Basile as he once again only made one attempt from that range.
After defeating the Mastodons with play that Nagy has mastered, it was time for the biggest challenge of the season: attacking Cleveland State in their home. Cleveland State had dispatched NKU by simply forcing them to take shots from behind the arc and watching them fail, winning the first Horizon contest 72-58. Cleveland State had created a culture on their bench of being loud and proud, apparently earning themselves a bench warning before one of their contests had even began. In terms of schemes, Wright State and Cleveland both shared wanting to get into the paint and score as much as possible off of their dynamic guards, this battle was going to rely on who could create a defensive position.
Wright State started the contest against the Vikings by keeping their pace for points. Early easy shots led the Raiders to see a lead that was as high as 4 points before the Vikings defense took over the play after the end of the first media time out. The Vikings made the Raiders earn every possession they had, applying full-court pressure to a team that could not find a way to support the back-court player and playing a stout 2-3 zone defense that prevented any streaking play. For eight full minutes, the Raiders got only 4 points off while Cleveland State took advantage and dragged the score up to 30-18 in the Vikings favor.
The Raiders then went on 8-point run off of sloppy offensive play by Cleveland to get back within two possessions of last year’s co-champion before another stout defensive stand with zone defense left the Raiders trailing 45-33 at the half way mark. For Wright State, the bright spots were showings by Basile and Calvin who led with 11 and 9 points respectively. While the defense left a bit to be desired, allowing Cleveland to turn a majority of their possessions into points, Basile kept control of the rebounding game to prevent any Cleveland second chances on their few misses.
The Raiders entering the half were once again able to battle the score to 56-50 off of Holden’s very first basket of the night. This would be as close as Cleveland would allow them to get for the remainder of the ball game as the Wright State defense could not hold back the Vikings as they continued to sneak past the Raiders under the rim or dish it out to bench player Jayson Woodrich, who shot an incredible 5-5 from three all the way until the final moments of the game. Cleveland State, who entered the game shooting at around the same percentage as Wright State from three, shot 9-18 from three to overpower the Raiders 85-75.
Trey Calvin was the hero of the night as Tanner Holden was held to just 5 points by the Cleveland State defense, as head coach Dennis Gates locked in on the Player of the Year candidate and made the Raiders’ offense try to get points elsewhere. Calvin ended the night with another career game of 28 points, including 3 from three, and Basile, who had to earn every point as he was also targeted by the Cleveland’s defense and big man Deante Johnson, earned 23 points and 15 total rebounds, his best so far this year. AJ Braun was not able to free himself for points in the game as he saw only 4 points and a single rebound in 23 minutes of play.
Cleveland’s game plan of “Stop Holden and Basile” worked wonders for them as Cleveland State was able to see massive production from their bench as opposed to the Raiders, which only managed a total of 6 points compared to the Vikings’ 37. Wright State’s bench, while very young, has yet to prove themselves and could be affecting any late game ability the Raiders could have as three of the starters were on the court for nearly the whole game.
The Raiders’ next games are a return to home after seven games away from the Nutter Center against Akron on December 15th and against Tennessee Tech on December 18th, before hitting the road again for the final non-conference game against Power 5 member NC State on December 21st.
Wright State will also be holding a conference with the committee assigned to assessing the athletics programs at the university on December 14th. This committee was formed after the Raiders cut three teams to dip below the required number of sports for Division 1 play, and the waiver that the NCAA gave the university is due to expire at the end of this school year. The third-party committee should be discussing their findings from the budget analysis and the community survey and provide a course of action for the university to take.