- Jay Morrison Staff Writer
It wasn’t immediate, but it was eventually emphatic.
Needing an answer for Thursday’s letdown at last-place Cleveland State, Wright State played a sloppy first four minutes before surging past host Youngstown State for a 83-57 victory Saturday night at the Beeghly Center.
The win kept the Raiders (18-9 overall, 10-2 Horizon League) tied for first place with Northern Kentucky, which whipped Cleveland State 78-61 early in the day.
“I’m so happy with our guys,” WSU coach Scott Nagy said. “I’d be happy with them had we not won because I love this group. They’re a fun group to coach. They put up with me, honestly. I don’t want it to be ‘if we win, I’m proud of them and if we don’t, I’m not.’ These are great kids and they’re giving us everything they have.”
Sophomore guard Cole Gentry led four WSU players in double figures with a game-high 21 points. Freshman Jaylon Hall added 16, Youngstown native Mark Hughes had 15 and Loudon Love, the reigning HL Freshman of the Week, just missed another double-double with 14 points and nine rebounds as the Raiders ran their winning streak in Youngstown to four games.
WSU missed nine of its first 11 shots and had four turnovers through four minutes in falling behind 9-2 for the second straight game. But the Raiders seized control with a 14-0 run and went in front for good on a Love dunk with 10:47 left in the first half.
“All the things we talked about, taking care of the ball and not giving up offensive rebounds, we didn’t do any of it,” Nagy said. “They killed us on all that stuff. But we were still able to win the game, and the reason was because we were great defensively.”
The Raiders gave up 18 offensive rebounds but still finished even in total boards, 35 to 35. And they held YSU to 30.8-percent shooting (20 of 65), including 17.6 percent from 3-point range (3 of 17).
Making the defensive performance even more impressive was the fact the Raiders — already a man down for the second game in a row due to Everett Winchester’s injury — had to navigate serious foul trouble in the second half.
Grant Benzinger picked up his fourth foul with more than 14 minutes remaining, and Parker Ernsthausen and Gentry also played with four fouls. Hughes picked up his third in the first minute of the second half, and Love also played most of the second half with three.
“That was the biggest concern for me with 12 minutes to go,” Nagy said. “I was like ‘I don’t know if we’re going to have enough guys to play this game. Because in the second half they didn’t really shoot a jump shot. They just put it on the floor and attacked us and got offensive rebounds and we were just fouling every time.
“It’s frustrating when you have a lead like that and the clock just won’t run because all we do is foul. We can’t get a rebound.”
Benzinger had nine points and nine rebounds, while Hall and Tye Wilburn each registered five assists, marking a career high for both players.
WSU returns to action Thursday against Wisconsin-Green Bay for the first of four consecutive home games.