Last Thursday was going to be a great day, I had just gotten off of work and had tickets to the newest Scream movie with my partner. We had gotten tickets that allowed us to watch a live Q&A with the cast right after the 2-hour showing, something we were both looking forward to as immense fans of the series. I had remembered thinking to myself that yeah, Wright State was going to be playing during the movie and all, but it was against Robert Morris, a team that by far had failed to establish any sort of identity or fear factor and had dropped the last six against Horizon League competition, I’ll rewatch it when I get home.
Then I took to Twitter.
I thought I was going to start screaming like Drew Barrymore. Six players?! Who all was missing? Before the movie could begin, I was frantically looking for more information. It got progressively worse as I found out more: Trey Calvin and AJ Braun were both out, two vital starters to the squad. Trey Calvin has blossomed as of late into the most reliable scorer not named Tanner Holden on the squad, able to make points wherever he is or dish it to someone who can get underneath for the assist. AJ Braun has solidified the center post and has given opposing teams fits trying to defend him with his size.
On tipoff, the full breakdown of the squad that was set to play was clear:
- Tanner Holden* – 20.2 PPG
- Grant Basile* – 18.3 PPG
- Tim Finke* – 9.6 PPG
- CJ Wilbourn^ – 2.1 PPG
- Keaton Norris^ – 2.9 PPG
- Andy Neff – 1.1 PPG
- TJ Nagy – 0 PPG
CJ Wilbourn would once again take over AJ Braun’s role in his absence, something he had done during his last absence against the Wisconsin squads when they visited the Nutter Center. Keaton Norris would also hop off the bench to start in full capacity, taking over Calvin’s spot for the weekend at the point. While the Raiders were still able to keep the league’s best scoring duo in Basile and Holden, the bench looked incredibly bleak.
Andy Neff and TJ Nagy have seen very little time on the court even as bench members, and their presence as the team’s sole relief meant that Riley Voss, Alex Huibregtse, James Manns, and Andrew Welage were all also out for the weekend. The goal for the trip to the eastern stretches of the Horizon League immediately became clear: Survive. The starters were going to have to play at their very best and would have to play as many minutes as possible while minimizing fouls.
Robert Morris and Wright State traded blows all the way through to the end of the first half, shot for shot being answered by the two squads. The highest lead of the half was Robert Morris with 18-13, where it seemed like the Raiders had started to resign to their fate as they looked sluggish on the floor. However, Wright State turned it around off of two Finke rockets from behind the arc and two easy layups by Tanner Holden to put the Raiders up 23-22. Wright State kept it close as the half ended with the score tied at 37-37, but Tanner Holden had racked up three fouls, a serious threat to a squad already low on available players.
The two squads kept trading points coming out of the half until a 10-2 run allowed the Raiders to gain a 57-50 advantage over the Colonials off of some key blocks from Basile. The Colonials then responded in kind with a run of their own, running up the floor and scoring 14 points over 4 minutes while holding Wright State to a pair of free throws. With Robert Morris lead now at 71-67, all they had to do was continue the scoring pace they had set for themselves throughout, and keep that energy in the final four minutes of the game. Unfortunately for RMU, they would continue their collapsing streak and let the Raiders get a clutch three pointer from Grant Basile, then let the Horizon League leader in free throws go to the strip and score 5 more to end the game 75-73.
This short-handed squad had done it, they had extended their winning streak to seven and had done so with what can be described as a skeleton squad. Finke, Basile, and Norris all clocked in a full forty minutes for the contest, with Holden only taking a few minutes off to sit out his first half foul trouble. Basile and Holden scored the majority for Wright State with 23 and 18 points respectively, but they were also getting a lot of help from Tim Finke. Finke contributed 19 points on 8-13 shooting, a season high, and his performance allowed Wright State to keep this game as close as it was throughout, since Holden was held by the Colonial defense to 33% shooting.
Norris also had an incredible game, going perfect where he could shoot, grabbing four rebounds and assists, and not allowing the Colonials to get the ball away from him at all. I’ve mentioned before that Norris has amazing awareness and a basketball IQ to match, but this game showcased it. Wilbourn and Andy Neff took up the flex spot on the squad, adding six points of their own, and TJ Nagy got some time in due to Holden’s foul trouble.
After the win in Pittsburgh, the Raiders moved back to Youngstown, Ohio to take on the Penguins. The Penguins had entered Horizon League play sweeping the Wisconsin teams, taking a loss to undefeated Oakland, and taking care of business against RMU in the final minutes. Then they went home and took loss after loss, going into the final night of the homestead on a three game losing streak.
The game began as most games do for the Raiders, with both teams having their way with scoring, waiting for someone to trip up. By the under 12 mark, the score was 24-22 YSU, and it looked to be another race like the game against RMU. Then the cracks in Youngstown State’s defense showed and Wright State was able to pick up offensive rebounds like they were candy, allowing the team to get 12 points in just the first half on second chances. While Wright State separated themselves on a pair of YSU lulls, the Penguins fought back through to the end of the half and were only down 46-40.
Youngstown State defended Holden very well during the first half, holding the HL First Teamer to 7 points on 2-9 shooting. They didn’t have very good answers for Basile or Finke who shot 17 and 15 points respectively, with Finke shooting 3-4 from behind the arc and showing off the brilliance he has from three. Wilbourn and Andy Neff were both in foul trouble however, ending the half with two and three fouls, respectively. Losing members of a squad is never pretty during normal NCAA matches, but when it’s the COVID-wracked variety, it’s all the more bitter.
Pop quiz: Do you know what happens if your NCAA squad for some reason or another has less than five players available due to fouls? In the NBA, you must play five players at all times so you can continue play with a player that has fouled out. If said player commits a foul, from then on its a personal foul and a team technical foul. In the NCAA, however, you play with only the members that haven’t fouled out, turning into something akin to a hockey power play, and you continue play until the game ends or the squad consists of one person. Proud of the NCAA for realizing that a 1v5 basketball game is just cruel and calls it a loss if you get to that desperate point.
YSU entered the half and blazed through Wright State’s defense to erase the deficit and get as close as 1 before the Raiders once again pulled away with a double digit lead. The Penguins scored only six points in 10 minutes midway through the half, allowing the Raiders to get some breathing room on their opponent. With six minutes left in the final half and Wright State up 74-66, it looked like the Raiders were going to be able to run away from this weekend completely unscathed, but then Youngstown State woke up.
The Raiders completely stalled out on offense, only making free throws for five minutes of the contest and allowed the Youngstown offense to get layup after layup off the back of Dwayne Cohill. With 30 seconds left, the Raiders tied up the contest 86-86 with a Wilbourn layup. Youngstown then took the contest away on a perfect three from the corner by Daniel Ogoro. Youngstown snapped their home losing streak to the Raiders on a heartbreaker three, ending the contest 90-87.
Holden scored 20 points in the second half to lead all scorers with 27 total at the end of the night, followed closely by Basile with 26. The two leading scorers also added double doubles, while Finke once again pitched in an incredible 18 points. Norris once again added nine points, while Wilbourn added seven points and six rebounds. While scoring was amazing for both sides, what really pushed the needle and allowed the Raiders to score was their total ownership of the offensive glass. Youngstown was simply unable to guard underneath as Wright State had nearly as many offensive rebounds as they did defensive.
This is also a double-edged sword, Wright State could not get their own act together on the defensive side of the ball during both games. While the Raiders were able to hold Robert Morris to 73 points, the only reason that the Colonials were able to score as many was due to a lack of defensive pressure. Similarly, Youngstown was able to push their way back into the game in the final moments when the Raiders let Cohill through for layups. While I’m sure Nagy would’ve loved a more defensive focus on the game, this squad is known to get its scoring taken care of and they lack of any bench members to assist pushed the needle to giving it all on the offense. Had there been better defensive pressure, the games against RMU and Youngstown wouldn’t have been as close as they were, and they may have been able to sweep the week.
Wright State picks back up with a rematch against IUPUI, who just got brutalized by Ohio State, on Thursday and UIC on Saturday in their home stadiums, and hopefully with more than just 7 members. Following those matchups, they go down to Highland Heights on January 25th to play their postponed matchup from January 10th, then return home to take on Cleveland State and Purdue Fort Wayne on January 28th and January 30th, respectively.