Fresh off the heels of a set of wins at home, Wright State (6-7, 3-1 HL) welcomed the UIC Flames (4-7, 0-2 HL) and the IUPUI Jaguars (1-10, 0-2 HL) to the Nutter Center. Being able to attend these games in the stands as only the second and third games I was actually able to attend this year was a treat, and the atmosphere buzzed with excitement as the Raiders had been earning their keep in the Horizon after a not-so-stellar non-conference slate.
UIC would come in looking for their first Horizon win after taking on the likes of Detroit Mercy and Oakland, two of the league’s top contenders, and IUPUI would come in looking to stop a D1 losing streak going back to last year. IUPUI is ranked second-worst in the country through the NET rankings as of writing this, and had their first game of their road trip cancelled by NKU. Wright State, conversely, is looking to continue a four game winning streak and further cement themselves in the Horizon’s top echelon.
VS. UIC, January 6th
Wright State started the game with UIC off behind as the Flames made it through the first four minutes nearly perfect from the floor, while the Raiders themselves couldn’t convert their extra opportunities underneath. UIC would get no closer to victory after the media timeout as the Raiders would storm back from their 9-2 deficit to tie it up at 11 only three minutes later. From then on, it was Wright State’s game to walk away with. Sloppy UIC play, travels and fouls galore, and Wright State’s size all helped the Raiders get the edge in rebounds and points in the paint as they went on another 12 point run to take the lead 42-35 by halftime.
The Raiders continued the second half laying into the UIC defense, scoring 29 points on the squad in just 9 minutes while holding UIC to 15 to take a 71-50 lead. While UIC was shooting amazingly from three, making four of its last five during the halfway mark of the half, they were still unable to stop the Raiders offense from driving underneath, with Calvin and Holden finding open lanes to push easy layups through. UIC would pull within 11 to try and salvage the game with just under three minutes remaining, but would falter and allow the Raiders to score 8 unanswered points to seal the game 90-72.
Wright State’s main duo of Holden and Basile had more than twenty points in the game as UIC floundered to answer their offensive power. While Holden would get six points from the foul line, and still lead the country in attempts and made free throws, he also made 10-17 on the night to finish with a season high 26 points and two rebounds shy of a double-double. Basile was perfect underneath, only his missed three pointers stained his 100% field goal percentage on the night. Basile and Holden made up for more than half of the score, but Trey Calvin was the key to the offense during the game, putting up 19 points of his own while drawing attention to himself to allow Basile and Holden to get into position.
Defense was the main difference between UIC and Wright State. While the Raiders were able to keep the Flames out of the paint fully, preventing the easy shots that Wright State relies on, UIC could not keep up with the offense. Even their attempts to go zone were met with mixed results, as they often allowed the Raiders to get the ball to an ignored player for an easy shot. UIC, for its part, was able to keep up with the Raiders off of 45% three point shooting, something that Wright State could not contain while keeping a handle on inside the arc. UIC’s three pointers in the second half were especially alarming; they simply could not miss and Wright State allowed them to have those shots fall.
VS. IUPUI, January 8th
Just like with UIC, the Raiders started off slow. While the Jags did themselves absolutely no favors by going scoreless in the first four minutes, Wright State wasn’t showing any of its offensive might, scoring 3 points in the span of 8 minutes while letting IUPUI drain three after three to score 14, putting the score at the under 8 minute mark 14-11 in IUPUI’s favor. Coming out of the timeout, the Raiders were able to tie the game up and battle for a little while, both teams getting foul after foul as IUPUI and Wright State’s defenses made it a physical fight to get to the rim. The Jags then had a bad stretch of turnovers and poor shooting to allow Wright State to end the half 33-23.
Wright State extended their lead to 15 out of the half before yet another Raider cold spell led to the Raiders scoring two points in five minutes and allowed IUPUI to move the score to 42-37. Then IUPUI went cold as a ghost, and the Raiders took back their lead and extended it to 20 for the first time in the game, leading the Jags 59-40 at the under 8 mark as the only shots the Jags could make were free throws. Despite personally being upset that the Raiders allowed the Jags to score 50 points, something that IUPUI had done in only 4 games, the Raiders cruised through the rest of the game and dominated IUPUI 72-58.
Despite a rough start and lulls along the way, the Raiders ended the game with four of their starters, all except for Braun, in double digits. Tanner Holden once again led the way with 20 points as the Raider starters averaged just under 50% from the field, but the Wright State bench was almost entirely silent. Keaton Norris made the first three of only six points off the bench halfway through the second half, and then was followed up by a James Manns three in garbage time.
IUPUI did its part to keep the Raiders busy as they were physically dominant underneath, forcing the paint-heavy offense to earn its contested shots as two or three defenders would attack the ball handler on sight. Physical defenses have spooked the Raiders in the past, such as the game against James Madison in Florida, and IUPUI made it’s best efforts to contain the offense underneath, often drawing fouls in the process. IUPUI, however, had even more trouble with the defense the Raiders put on, with only Azariah Seay being able to crack through the defense consistently to get layups and rebounds.
What’s next for the Raiders
The game previously scheduled for January 10th against rival Northern Kentucky was postponed due to COVID. The Horizon League came out with an announcement that games between travel partners would be rescheduled if possible, otherwise NKU would receive a no-contest for the cancellation. Fortunately, NKU and Wright State were able to find a replacement date and are now going to play on January 25th in Highland Heights, which will kick off the hardest stretch of conference league play as they take on Cleveland State, Oakland, PFW, and Detroit Mercy at home afterwards. The Raiders are first going on a four game road trip to take on Robert Morris on January 13th and Youngstown on January 15th.