On Wednesday, the Wright State Raiders had done what no other Horizon League representative had been able to do since Butler was still a proud member of the league: win an NCAA tournament game. The game was one for the ages as the two champions of mid-major conferences met to see who was going to continue their trek forward to the Round of 64.
Bryant entered as a first time champion of the Northeast Conference after demolishing the competition, only losing twice and flat out dominating Wagner throughout the first half of the conference championship to take it all. Their secret to their success is national scoring leader Peter Kiss, whose scoring is dynamic across the floor and has been known to get under the skin of the enemy.
“He’s good. He’s obviously very aggressive. He’s very athletic,” Coach Nagy said in the pre-game interview. “He’s a big challenge not just for whoever is guarding him, but for our whole team.”
Alongside Peter Kiss is his scoring partner Charles Pride, the main rebounder for the Bulldogs and a dynamic threat in his own right, forming a one-two punch that their NEC opponents found difficult to match. Add in the former guard from NKU Adham Eleeda and big man Hall Elisias, who averages around three blocks per game, and you have a hungry NCAA squad looking to cause trouble.
Wright State brings in its trio of Grant Basile, Tanner Holden, and Trey Calvin to face off against Bryant. Tanner Holden and Trey Calvin create a dominant guard threat that can shoot from anywhere and is the team’s go to scorers under pressure as they find ways to dodge coverage give each other assists. If Basile is under the rim and available, they’ll dish it to him to score the easy layup. All three hold an impressive scoring average at or above 15 points per game.
On the defensive side, Tim Finke is their best option and, according to Coach Nagy, will be matched against Kiss to try to slow their offensive production. Rounding out the lineup is a carousel of available options, whether its Keaton Norris taking charge on the floor as the point guard, Andrew Welage to drain some three-pointers, or AJ Braun to provide some extra presence under the rim on both sides of the ball.
Dayton would be the backdrop of the night, the traditional host for the NCAA’s First Four matchups. This would be the first return for the Raiders to the stadium since they last humbled University of Dayton 101-99 in 1997. Instead of a Gem City Jam, the Raiders would play a very different opponent hailing from Rhode Island and for a much bigger stake: surviving to play another March Madness game.
The game started fully in Bryant’s favor, taking an early 5-0 lead after making Wright State give up the ball three times. A Calvin 3 and a couple of Holden foul shots brought it back to a tie, and was then followed up with a quick run by Holden to put the team up four.
Wright State’s offense had a fairly sloppy first portion of the game, generating turnovers that Bryant was able to take advantage of, however Bryant’s ace in the hole was guarded by Tim Finke, and Finke was doing a phenomenal job of making Kiss earn every point. It wasn’t until Kiss’ first three-pointer of the game at the 7 minute mark that Bryant was able to look Wright State in the eye and tie it 22-22.
Nagy was all smiles in the post game conference about Finke’s performance. “Tim made his job pretty tough. He’s a good offensive player; leads the nation in scoring. Tim made him work for every one.”
The Raiders then went on a small run, followed by Bryant clawing it away almost immediately to end the half 44-42 in the home team’s favor. While Holden was leading the team with 20 points, the more impressive stat was the Raiders’ defense on Kiss and Pride, who totaled up to 16 points throughout the first half. Effectively containing the two was going to be critical for the match, but the other Bulldogs, such as Luis Hurtado who was a perfect 4-4 in the half, were stepping up to contribute points and defensive pressure on Basile, who was being victimized with four turnovers throughout the half.
“We should’ve been up by 10,” Nagy would say during the postgame conference. He would go on to say that he wasn’t pleased with how the first half ended up and how he thought they could’ve done better on the defensive side of the ball.
The second half began with an alley-oop to Hall Elisias that was picture perfect to tie it 44-44, but that would be the last instance that the Bulldogs would come close to sniffing victory. After taking the first double digit lead of the game at the under 12 mark with a score of 67-57, the Raiders kept Bryant at arm’s length the remainder of the ball game. Not even a power outage and strobe lighting could sway the Raiders.
Wright State finished the offensive showdown with a score of 93-82, with Holden providing a whopping 37 points to the table, followed closely behind by Calvin with 21 and Basile with 14. On Bryant’s side of the ball, Kiss provided 28 points total to lead the squad, with Luis Hurtado chipping in 13 and Tyler Brelsford another 12.
Wright State had finally earned their first NCAA tournament victory.
“It’s awesome to be able to do this in your backyard and experience it with all the fans who come to the games and at the Nutter Center, and it was just a great game tonight,” Tanner Holden said after the game. “Where we did it, how we did it, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
During a discussion about how it felt to hear the Go Raiders chant in UD’s arena following the power outage, the light behind the camera in the conference room turned off, as if to emphasize the energy it brought to the stadium.
Wright State now takes the long plane trip to the other side of the country to take on #1 Arizona in San Diego. Tip off begins at 7:27 EDT.