Wright State basketball: Confident Holden playing at high level for Raiders

Wright State guard Tanner Holden drives to the paint on Green Bay forward Ryan Claflin and guard Lucas Stieber during a men's basketball game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED
Wright State guard Tanner Holden drives to the paint on Green Bay forward Ryan Claflin and guard Lucas Stieber during a men's basketball game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED

FAIRBORN -- Wright State’s Tanner Holden may get amped up listening to coach Scott Nagy give a pre-game speech, but all he needs to come ready to compete is the encouragement he gets from home.

“My mom texts me before every game, putting it in big bold letters: ‘BELIEVE,’” he said.

“My dad also tells me — just like everyone else I care about — to believe in yourself. If you believe you can do it, you’ll do it. I’m a lot more confident in myself this year. I’m not going out and trying to do anything crazy. I’m just playing.”

That inner strength has helped the sophomore wing become a bona fide Horizon League star. He was named conference player of the week Monday for his production in a pair of wins over Green Bay last weekend.

He had 19 and 18 points, going 14 of 21 from the field and 9 of 10 on foul shots, while also snagging a combined 18 rebounds.

That deft touch at the foul line is a new development.

He’s 22 of 29 for 75.9% this year after shooting 60.9% last season.

“It’s a good feeling to see those going in,” he said.

Holden, who is shooting a nifty 59.4% from the field, is one of five Raiders averaging in double figures, getting 15.3 per game. Loudon Love is averaging 15.7, Grant Basile 13.6, Jaylon Hall 11.4 and Trey Calvin 11.3.

The balanced scoring makes the Raiders, who play at Oakland on Friday and Saturday, tough to defend and shows the share-the-ball culture in the program.

It’s also helped them shoot 49.9% from the floor. If they can maintain that for the season, it would be their highest mark since hitting 51.6% in 1992-93.

“Coach has been preaching unselfishness and playing for each other. I didn’t play to score 19 (Sunday). I played to try to get the win. If we do that each and every night, guys will definitely get their moment and have their time.

“As a team, if we win, we’re all happy for each other. Just in the program in general, it’s never about me, it’s about we. If you’re playing for yourself, you’re only going to get so far.”

The Raiders, who have won six straight games after a season-opening loss to Marshall, are tied for first in the league with Cleveland State at 4-0.

But despite being overwhelming preseason favorites, they’re finding that beating the same team twice on consecutive days is no easy task.

In both of their second games against Detroit and Green Bay, the first half was tight — they were trailing by three in one and winning by three in the other — before their superior talent took over.

“Coach has always said if you lose that first game, you’re coming into the second one with reckless abandon,” Holden said. “You’re coming in ready to fight. You’re more hungry.

“There’s no relaxing in this type of setting,” he added. “There’s no easy wins in college basketball. But the second one is always tougher.”

The 6-foot-6 Holden has played the most minutes on the team, averaging 35.1 per game, but also has the fewest turnovers among the starters with 11.

He ultimately could end up being the Raiders’ leading scorer, having averaged 18 points in the last five games.

“He’s got a good motor, and he has a good feel,” Nagy said. “We run a lot of stuff for him because his field-goal percentage is really good for a guy playing his position. He passes it well. He rebounds well. There’s not a part of his game that he doesn’t do well.”

After a brief pause, Nagy did recall one thing that needs attention: “We’d like to see him become a better defender, but we want EVERYONE on our team to be better defenders. That’s the focus.”

Deceptive: Oakland went 0-7 in non-league games. It lost three times in the Xavier Invitational, fell at Michigan in overtime and was routed by Purdue, Oklahoma State and Michigan State on the road.

The Grizzlies’ record dropped to 0-9 after losing their first two league games at UIC, but they rebounded to win twice at Detroit last weekend.

“Starting out this year at Xavier, they basically hadn’t practiced at all,” Nagy said. “They were just throwing stuff together to get games in.

“Obviously, those first seven games, nobody in the country played a schedule like that — nobody. There probably wouldn’t be any of our teams (in the league) that would have a win after those first seven games. You just throw those out.”

National TV: Wright State’s home game Friday, Jan. 8, against Youngstown State will be broadcast at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.

FRIDAY’S GAME

Wright State at Oakland, 7 p.m., ESPN3, ESPN+, 106.5

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