Raiders roll to Horizon League win as freshman provides spark

Wright State coach Scott Nagy looks on during the Raiders' game earlier this season vs. Lake Erie College. On Thursday, WSU defeated Purdue Fort Wayne in its Horizon League opener. Joe Craven/Wright State Athletics

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Wright State coach Scott Nagy looks on during the Raiders' game earlier this season vs. Lake Erie College. On Thursday, WSU defeated Purdue Fort Wayne in its Horizon League opener. Joe Craven/Wright State Athletics

Fenwick grad A.J. Braun scores 17 points in first career start

Wright State coach Scott Nagy has been tinkering with his starting lineup since preseason practice began in October, searching for a combination that would allow the Raiders to play up to their usual standards.

After plenty of trial and error, he may have found it.

A.J. Braun, a 6-foot-9 freshman center from Fenwick High School, made his first start Thursday in a Horizon League opener at Purdue Fort Wayne and was instrumental in an 86-73 victory that snapped a five-game losing streak.

He made all six of his first-half shots and scored a team-high 13 points in the opening 20 minutes. He finished with 17 on 8-of-9 shooting while playing 25 minutes.

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A.J. Braun, Wright State basketball. WSU Athletics photo

Credit: Courtesy of Wright State univers

A.J. Braun, Wright State basketball. WSU Athletics photo

Credit: Courtesy of Wright State univers

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A.J. Braun, Wright State basketball. WSU Athletics photo

Credit: Courtesy of Wright State univers

Credit: Courtesy of Wright State univers

And with 6-9 junior star Grant Basile able to move to power forward, the Raiders had the frontcourt size that caused opponents so much trouble last season.

“It changes our offense. It allows us to play bigger. We’re a better rebounding team. It’s really the way we want to play,” Nagy said on his post-game radio show.

Braun was expected to be redshirted this season and sat out the first three games. He saw his first action in the Naples Invitational just before Thanksgiving and scored 22 points in the three games.

“I went in (the locker room) and looked at our coaches and said, ‘How dumb are we that we were going to redshirt him this year? We’re not very smart, are we?’” Nagy said with a laugh.

“To have a freshman play that way in our first conference game is a big luxury.”

The Raiders (2-5, 1-0) raced to a 47-35 halftime lead, making 16 of their first 20 shots and shooting 74.1 percent in the first half.

They led by as many as 18 points and finished 36 of 52 for 69.2%. They were shooting just 40.2% through the first six games.

The single-game record is 76.6%, which was set against Otterbein on Dec. 16, 1978.

PFW (3-4, 0-1), known for its slick offense after shooting 50.1% last season (the fourth-best mark in the nation), couldn’t keep up.

Tanner Holden started 6 of 7 from the field and scored a team-high 22 points on 11-of-15 shooting. He also snagged seven rebounds.

Basile had 19 points and eight boards, and point guard Trey Calvin had 14 points, five assists and two steals.

The Raiders went into the game with a minus-6.0 rebounding average per game, but they pounded the Mastodons on the boards, 33-20.

“It’s part of the growing up for this team. You wouldn’t think with all these older kids that we’d have to grow up. But we do have to learn how to play — we just had Loudon (Love) for so many years,” Nagy said.

“I’m really proud of our guys. You’d think we won the national championship in (the locker room). I want them to feel that way and feel good about themselves. Hopefully, this will be the start of something great.”

SATURDAY’S GAME

Wright State at Cleveland State, 3 p.m., ESPN+, 103.9

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