Late surge powers Wright State to victory over Tennessee Tech

Wright State's Tanner Holden puts up a shot vs. Tennessee Tech on Saturday at the Nutter Center. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

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Wright State's Tanner Holden puts up a shot vs. Tennessee Tech on Saturday at the Nutter Center. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

FAIRBORN – Scott Nagy finally doesn’t have to squint quite so hard to see this year’s Wright State men’s basketball team resemble the program he’s built the past five seasons.

On Saturday, the Raiders outscored Tennessee Tech 25-8 over the final nine-plus minutes to earn a 72-63 victory at the Nutter Center. But it wasn’t the scoring that the Raiders were talking about after the game. The talk was about Nagy’s favorite thing: defense.

“Honestly it wasn’t even offense for us,” junior guard Trey Calvin said. “It was defense. We were playing team defense, staying in front of guys, helping guys. And on offense we were just moving the ball and taking good shots.”

The Raiders are an uncharacteristic 3-7. Tanner Holden had a good offensive game, making 7 of 9 shots and 8 of 8 free throws for 22 points, including 16 in the second half. Calvin had 17 points and Grant Basile had 14 and 12 rebounds. Nagy said his players were too focused on scoring averages until this week, but he gets why that’s usually what gets talked about.

“These kids get there kudos, their pats on the back from their friends and their family from how many points they scored,” he said. “But our program just has not been built on that.”

The defense began to turn around in Wednesday’s 66-48 loss to Akron. That effort didn’t carry over to start Saturday’s game, but in the second half, and especially the final nine minutes, Nagy liked what he saw against Tech (3-9).

“It’s hard to be great offensively if you’re not great defensively,” he said. “So I feel like we’re getting the ship turned around. It’s like a big ocean liner. You don’t just turn it around like you do a speedboat. I think our mindset is changing and we’re starting to understand that the defense is the most important thing.”

The Raiders trailed 51-47 when their defense took over. Calvin started it with a 3-pointer and Holden hit a jumper in the lane for a 52-51 lead with 8:48 left. The lead grew to 57-51 before Tech scored again and hit a high of 15 with 3:31 left.

“More energy, and it felt like we had the most fun we had all year,” Calvin said. “And it felt good to come out with the win and play team basketball.”

Calvin has heard Nagy’s pleas for his team to get serious about defense. As one of the team’s veterans, he wants to be a leader on that end of the floor.

“Coach Nagy’s been on us the whole year about defense, and we haven’t really been doing our job,” he said. “I feel like today was probably one of our best defensive games.”

As Nagy and just about any basketball coach will say, great defense creates great offense. That was true for Holden in the second half. He’s averaging 19 points, but he was coming off 12 against Akron and five against Cleveland State, making only a combined 6 of 20 shots.

“He was just in attack mode,” Calvin said. “I felt like last couple games he’s been less aggressive, so today he was attacking more, and he got to the foul line a lot.”

Holden attacked at the right times within the flow of the offense, and it paid off.

“I didn’t want to force anything because I’ve been in kind of a slump,” he said. “And I’ve tried to shoot myself out of it and you can never do that.”

The Raiders also didn’t let a bad start get them down. Tech jumped out to a 17-7 lead. The Raiders responded with an 11-0 run for a brief lead and trailed 33-32 at halftime. They rode the roller coaster of five ties and seven lead changes until their game-closing run.

“You see the score and you can go, ‘Oh man, here we go again,’” Holden said. “But we stuck together through all the ups and downs and just kept persevering. We just never stopped fighting.”

TUESDAY’S GAME

Wright State at NC State, 7 p.m., ACC Network Extra, 103.9

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