In the years since Coach Scott Nagy’s arrival, the Wright State Raiders have never had a losing conference record by the halfway mark. This season, with the record standing at 4-6 in Horizon League competition, will be the first season that the Raiders will be fighting an uphill battle in the conference standings.
After going 0-2 against Purdue Fort Wayne and Cleveland State at home last week, the Raiders will try to break their home game funk that they’ve been in. When asked by the media after the Cleveland State game why the squad isn’t doing so hot at home, Nagy replied that he was just as confused as the fans are. The Nutter Center was listed in the Field of 68’s Almanac as the Horizon’s most feared place to play, and yet the Raiders have been uncharacteristically flat in their home games, specifically in the opening half. To try to combat this, Nagy changed around his starting lineup, swapping out Braun and Davis for Huibregtse and Sisley, both on their first starts of the season.
Milwaukee (14-6, 8-2 HL) came to the Nutter Center looking for revenge. The overtime loss to the Raiders at home represented a rare blemish in the resume of the Panthers, who have been on fire in league play so far under first year coach Bart Lundy. Since taking over for Patrick Baldwin’s disastrous final year, he has turned Milwaukee into a contender with Lundy Magic, as my fellow HoriZone writers have called it. With a powerful offense and a defense that is adept and willing to use full court pressure to force mistakes, the Panthers are looking to avoid the conference sweep and establish firm, undisputed control over the Horizon’s 1 seed.
It didn’t look like it was going to be a pretty game for the Raiders if you only watched the first ten seconds. Finke gave up the first possession and BJ Freeman walked it right into the rim. After that however, the Raiders went ham on defense and locked down the defensive glass. After going up 8-7, the Raiders shut the Panthers down, allowing 7 points in eight minutes by shutting the Panthers out of the paint and forcing a majority of their shots to come from outside. The initial starting rotation for the Raiders which was created to try something new, according to Coach Nagy, was doing its job to liven up the formation.
In sixteen minutes of play, the Raiders had forced 14 turnovers and earned 20 points off their efforts. By halftime, the Raiders were leading the Panthers by 47-26, with 6 of those points coming with 20 seconds left from one possession with a foul, bench technical, and a Huibregtse jumper. Andrew Welage led all scorers with 15 by the end of the first half, followed shortly behind by Trey Calvin with 13 on perfect 8-8 free throw shooting. BJ Freeman led the Panthers with 12, accounting for nearly half of Milwaukee’s points as the team shot 37%.
“It was so nice to see Andrew play so confidently in the first half,” Nagy remarked. “We were good defensively, and that’s why we were pretty good offensively.”
Milwaukee came out of the half hungry for their upset win. Lundy’s players immediately went into full court pressure, a style that the Raiders have struggled with consistently down the stretch. The Raiders bended but did not break, keeping Milwaukee from breaching their twenty point lead for too long despite an influx of turnovers. It took until six minutes remaining for Milwaukee to achieve some headway on the lead the Raiders had built, earning possessions and rebounds on the offensive glass and letting the Raiders foul them for their trouble. With four minutes remaining, Milwaukee had stormed to the Raiders’ gate with the score at 80-70.
Milwaukee would get as close as 5 points away from smacking the lead away from the Raiders, doing so at multiple intervals in the final minute during the fouling effort. But with time running out and the Raiders’ efficient time management, the home team pushed themselves away from the fright and took a three possession lead with time expiring. Milwaukee’s final three pointer was swatted away by Tim Finke in midair, and the buzzer rang for a 93-86 Wright State victory.
On the Raiders, Alex Huibregtse led in his first start of the season and second start of his career with 25 points, absolutely shattering his career high of 15 that he set earlier in the year against Ohio Northern.
“We put [Alex] in the starting lineup for the very first time, and there was a response for sure,” Nagy remarked. “To be able to have a guy who can space the floor like Alex can and obviously, teams are going to see how aggressive he is and he puts the work in.”
Andrew Welage finished with 19, knocking in free throws towards the end of the game to also set a new career high, overriding the 16 point high he set against Defiance. Two other Raiders also had double digit finishes; Trey Calvin with 21 and AJ Braun off the bench with 12. Noel and Finke finished with double digit rebounding numbers, a category the Raiders had previously struggled in. On Milwaukee, BJ Freeman led the squad with 26 points, followed by Justin Thomas and Zach Howell in double digits as well.
When asked how it felt to have two career nights in one match, roommates Alex Huibregtse and Andrew Welage smiled and laughed, and responded with “It feels good.”