Wright State basketball: Raiders are No. 2 seed in conference tourney

Wright State's Tanner Holden drives past NKU's Marques Warrick during Friday's game at NKU. Joseph Craven/Wright State Athletics
Wright State's Tanner Holden drives past NKU's Marques Warrick during Friday's game at NKU. Joseph Craven/Wright State Athletics

FAIRBORN — Wright State had to go through this abnormal 2020-21 season with the pressure of being picked as the overwhelming Horizon League favorite, having gotten 37 of 44 first-place votes in the preseason poll.

But if the Raiders felt tight in their final regular-season game — with the stakes being so high — they didn’t show it.

Needing a win to share the conference title, they overcame a late four-point deficit for a 77-71 victory at Northern Kentucky on Saturday.

In 10 consecutive weekends of back-to-back games, they managed to always win at least once and finished in a tie with Cleveland State at 16-4.

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They’ll go into the league tournament as the No. 2 seed, one spot behind the Vikings, who earned the top seed through a formula that includes strength of schedule.

“These are hard. They’re tough,” coach Scott Nagy said of the jam-packed weekends. “They’re emotional. They’re very long. To do it 10 times in a row, I’m shot. And I’m shot every Sunday.

“Emotionally, it’s a hard thing to do. I didn’t think anyone would win 16 games this year. I can’t tell you how proud I am of our guys.”

In 23 years as a conference member before Nagy arrived, the Raiders won just one regular-season title, a co-championship with Butler in 2006-07.

After finishing fifth and second in Nagy’s first two seasons, they’ve now won three in a row.

The league record is five straight by Butler from 2006-11. The Bulldogs also won four in a row from 2000-04.

Valparaiso won three straight from 2014-17.

“You don’t necessarily want to share one. But what we’ve been able to do with really good players — I’m really proud of the guys we’ve been able to coach,” Nagy said.

“Loudon (Love) just became the winningest all-time player in Wright State history (with 89 wins and counting in four years). That just tells you we’ve won a lot of games with him here and also the guys he’s played with. Wright State has never done that, at least in the Division I era, so I’m really proud of it.”

Being the No. 2 seed — even though they have a NET ranking of 65, about 100 spots higher than Cleveland State — may not be a bad thing for the Raiders.

Since the neutral-site format was introduced in 2016, the No. 1 seed has never emerged with the title.

Third-seeded Oakland and fourth-seeded Northern Kentucky also received byes.

First-round games start Thursday with Detroit Mercy (5 seed) hosting Robert Morris (12), Youngstown State (6) at home against hosting UIC (11), Green Bay (7) hosting Purdue Fort Wayne (10) and Milwaukee (8) playing at home against IUPUI (9).

The Raiders will play the second-lowest remaining seed in the quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Monday, March 2, at the Nutter Center.

“Those 10 days (of being idle) are a tough 10 days,” Nagy said. “We’re going to have four days of not knowing who we’re going to play. At this time of year, it’s hard to practice that way. I’ve done it a lot, and it’s hard to keep the players focused. But then you can get locked in, and it’s a different feel.

“But it’ll allow us to heal up a little bit. We’ve been pretty fortunate to not be too banged up this year. We’re (ailing) a little bit, but so is everybody else. We’ll take a couple days off and get healthy.”

Women’s tourney: The Raiders (15-7, 15-5) earned the top seed after winning a share of the regular-season title — their third in coach Katrina Merriweather’s five years.

They’ll have a bye into the quarterfinals and will play at home March 2.

Co-champion Milwaukee (2 seed) and Green Bay (3) also earned first-round byes. The women’s tourney will have 11 teams since Detroit Mercy opted out of their season.

“There’s no question it’s wide open,” Merriweather said. “It’s going to be about — after we take a couple days off — balancing what we need to work on and prioritizing those things and making sure we rest the right amount.

“It’s going to be a little bit of an experiment to make sure we put together a plan that’s going to be productive for us when we hit the floor March 2.”

Point parade: Loudon Love passed two players to move into third on the school’s all-time scoring list with 18 points Saturday, giving him 1,778.

He leapfrogged Keion Brooks (1995–99) and Vaughn Duggins (2006-11). Love may still catch DeShaun Wood (2003-07), who has 1,849 points. Bill Edwards (1990-93) is No. 1 with 2,303.

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