Defense, rebounding powers Wright State past Gardner-Webb

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Defense, rebounding powers Wright State past Gardner-Webb

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Grant Benzinger scored 18 points Friday night as Wright State opened its own tournament with a win over Gardner-Webb at the Nutter Center. Allison Rodriguez/CONTRIBUTED

One of the first columns on the stat sheet that Wright State coach Scott Nagy zeroes in on after a game is the rebound totals.

There’s a good reason for that.

“I’ve coached a lot of games, and I probably can count on one hand the number of times we’ve out-rebounded somebody by 10 and lost,” said Nagy, who is in his second season at Wright State and 23rd overall. “If you’re really out-rebounding a team, it probably means you’re playing good defense, and it means you’re hustling on the offensive end trying to get extra shots.

“I call rebounding a heart stat because it doesn’t always take the most athletic guy to do it, just the toughest guy.”

The Raiders showed heart and toughness in grinding out a 67-47 win over Gardner-Webb in the Wright State tournament before 3,456 fans Friday. They had a 39-27 rebounding edge on a night when their offense wasn’t exactly easy on the eyes.

They committed a ghastly 12 turnovers in the first 15 minutes and 19 for the game. But they were able to notch their first win over a Division-I foe this year by crashing the glass and turning in what Nagy called perhaps their best defensive effort in the last two seasons.

The Raiders (2-3) held the Bulldogs (2-4) to 15-of-51 shooting (29.4 percent) while forcing 22 turnovers.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who are just not doing very well offensively. We talked about, ‘Even if you’re struggling offensively, don’t let that be your value to our team. Your value is to be a great defender, a great rebounder and to get loose balls.’ The kids were really sharp defensively tonight,” Nagy said.

LEADING THE WAY: Senior wing Grant Benzinger, who had a season-high 18 points, was pleased with the team’s defensive progress, but he knows the ragged ball-handling can’t continue.

They’re averaging 16.8 turnovers, and Nagy’s goal is 10 or fewer.

“We’re lucky they turned it over 22 times because if they turn it over 11 and we have 19, it’s a whole different ball game,” Benzinger said. “That’s a big thing we have to cut down on because you don’t win a lot of games turning it over 19 times.

“It’s not just one guy. It’s the whole team. We all get careless with it. Sometimes your concentration goes out the window, and we’ve got to quit that.”

BOARD BRIGADE: Louden Love had a team-high nine rebounds, Justin Mitchell seven and Tye Wilburn six. The latter two players are point guards.

“Some guys just have a nose for the ball,” Nagy said.

TWO-MAN GAME: They talked about it before the season, calling it the “Mark and Park Show.” That’s the term juniors Mark Hughes and Parker Ernsthausen came up with for the times when they get on a roll together offensively.

Fans got a glimpse of that when Ernsthausen twice hit Hughes on backdoor cuts for easy layups in the first half. Ernsthausen had four points, three rebounds and a career-high three assists, while Hughes had 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting.

LAID-BACK: College basketball coaches have taken a casual approach to their attire at holiday tourneys around the country, and Nagy brought that mentality to the Raiders’ event. He wore a green Wright State pullover, gray slacks and green sneakers.

JACKSONVILLE WINS: The Dolphins snagged their first win this year over a Division I opponent in the opening game of the doubleheader Friday, beating Fairfield, 92-84.

Guard Devin Harris had 24 points and forward Jace Hogan 22 to lead the way. Jacksonville shot 55.4 percent from the field.

Fairfield’s Tyler Nelson scored a game-high 28 points.

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