Wright State freshman Jaylon Hall needed just 33 seconds to extinguish whatever energy remained for an Oakland Grizzlies team playing its fourth consecutive road game.
After Oakland sliced a 16-point deficit to seven a few minutes into the second half, Hall scored five points on back-to-back possessions to push the lead back to double digits, and that’s where it stayed as the Raiders clamped down on the Grizzlies and tightened their squeeze on first place in the Horizon League with a 64-51 triumph Sunday before 4,491 at the Nutter Center.
“That’s my job coming off the bench, giving guys a little lift they might not have coming into the second half,” said Hall, who hit 3 of 6 3-pointers and finished with 15 points, two shy of his career high.
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Freshman center Loudon Love scored 18 points and tied his career high with 17 rebounds and the Raiders held the Grizzlies to their second lowest point total of the season to improve to 17-6 overall and 9-1 in the HL.
“We weren’t great offensively, but we were really good defensively,” WSU coach Scott Nagy said. “This is their fourth game in a row on the road and you get to the point where it just wears you out. It does.”
Oakland (14-9, 6-4) had won five in a row, the last three of which were on the road. And the travel caught up to the Grizzlies as they were just 1 of 11 from 3-point range in the second half and 4 of 24 in the game.
But after Kendrick Nunn, the nation’s second leading scorer, banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to cut the WSU lead to 37-24 at halftime, Oakland found some energy during the break.
The Grizzlies forced the Raiders into three consecutive turnovers to start the second half and converted two of them into layups before closing within 42-35 on a Nunn jumper with 15:42 to go.
A few possessions later, Hall drove through the Oakland defense for a layup, then WSU sophomore guard Cole Gentry rebounded a missed 3-pointer and hit Hall on a run out for a wide open trey to push the advantage back to 49-35, and the Grizzlies never got any closer than 12 after that.
“That’s kind of where I thought they started to look tired,” Nagy said.
Gentry finished with nine points, four assists and tied his career high with six rebounds as the WSU dominated the Grizzlies for a 46-31 edge on the glass.
Junior forward Parker Ernsthausen added eight points and freshman forward Everett Winchester had seven, but Nagy directed most of his praise toward a player who missed all four shots he took in junior guard Mark Hughes.
“He struggled offensively, but boy he’s been good defensively,” Nagy said. “On the ball, he’s about as good as I’ve ever coached. He gives himself up every night to guard the best player. And obviously with Nunn in here, we know he’s the best player. And I thought he did a great on him.”
Nunn, who came in averaging 26.7 points, finished with 18, but they came on 5 of 18 shooting, including 2 of 12 from 3-point range.
And when Hughes picked us his third foul 17 seconds into the second half, Winchester took over on Nunn.
“We weren’t super uneasy because Everett’s done a great job, too,” Nagy said. “Everett’s bigger than Mark, and he’s harder to shoot over and just as athletic. Now he doesn’t have the experience Mark does, in terms of guarding all those baseline screens and things like that, because it takes a lot of experience to chase a good player like that. And it takes tremendous effort. Everett is like a security blanket for us because he can guard just about anybody.”
The WSU win capped a season sweep of the Grizzlies, the preseason favorite to win the league. The Raiders will try to maintain their one-game lead on Northern Kentucky when they embark on a two-game road swing next weekend with a Thursday game at Cleveland State before playing Saturday at Youngstown State.
“We’ve already talked about Cleveland State,” Nagy said. “I think it will be the toughest game for us to get ready for all year, to not have a letdown. I don’t care what anybody says, there’s no easy road wins.”