Trending in the right direction can make a team a contender coming into the ever-important Horizon League Tournament. Wright State earned their title last year on exactly that, taking down Cleveland State and NKU to dance and win for the first time in UD Arena. It’s all about getting hot at the right time, and this makes the final four games a forecast of what’s to come in Indianapolis.
Wright State needed to make the most of its final road trip to try and separate itself from the pack of teams at the middle. To start, the Raiders went to Cleveland State (16-11, 11-5 HL) for a rematch of one of the teams clamoring for the title. Cleveland State has shaped up nicely since the departure of Dennis Gates and the talent he took with him, and the team absolutely throttled the Raiders when they came to the Nutter Center this year, going up by 20 points midway through before ending the contest firmly in their favor 85-77.
Unfortunately, Wright State did not come into the match prepared for Cleveland’s defense, and especially not Tristan Enaruna. The Vikings controlled the first half of play and were methodical in dissecting Wright State’s defense to get points from anywhere on the floor. In contrast, the Raiders were stumbling on defense, couldn’t stop Cleveland from getting offensive rebounds, and making bad passes while in possession. The game at halftime was 41-36 CSU with the majority of points coming from Welage and Calvin and the competitiveness of the game being in spite of the Raiders’ performance on the floor. Midway through the second half, Cleveland State put the foot down on their opponent and suffocated them out of the game, ending the matchup 85-68.
The following matchup against Purdue Fort Wayne (15-13, 7-10 HL) also spelled danger. Purdue Fort Wayne also claimed the home matchup against the Raiders, and were hoping to continue that trend off of Jarred Godfrey, Damian Chong Qui, and Ra Kpedi holding the Raiders firmly at bay. Last go around, the Mastodons held the Raiders out of the opening half and kept momentum, and just like with Cleveland State they created a twenty point deficit. The Raiders could not afford to go down early again against this team.
The Raiders kept pace the whole way through the match, never allowing the Mastodons to stretch more than a couple possessions away. Alex Huibregtse and Trey Calvin had a day of draining three pointers, and eventually the Raiders caught back up to their opponent in the final seconds off of a clutch Calvin jumper to give the Raiders the lead. With 2.8 seconds remaining and up 75-74, Purdue Fort Wayne was going to need a miracle shot to take away the game.
This heave by Damian Chong Qui marks the second heartbreaker shot the Raiders have allowed, and while the Raiders played well, they failed in the key aspects that took them wholly out of the Cleveland State game: offensive rebounds and turnovers. By allowing Purdue Fort Wayne to take 13(!!) more shots off of these takeaways, the Raiders set the stage for this loss, and now sit back at .500 with a 9-9 conference record, tied for 6th with two other teams.
Currently, Wright State owns the tiebreaker above Robert Morris and Detroit Mercy for sixth, meaning a matchup with IUPUI in the first round at home is currently in the cards if the season were to end today. The Raiders face Oakland, currently in sole possession of the 5th seed, this Thursday. Winning that match is critical to the Raiders prospects at 5th, and they would still need Oakland to lose again to clinch it. 5th seed would face either Milwaukee or Northern Kentucky, if Cleveland doesn’t lose out, and either of these matchups would be more favorable than having to face the current 1 or 2 seeds, who have smoked the Raiders this season. This makes the matchup against UDM on Saturday critical as well, as the Titans could easily leapfrog the Raiders with a win.