Wright State coach Scott Nagy has been preaching all season how defense and rebounding are the path to victory. And if his players begin to doubt that at some point, he just needs to cue up the video of the Milwaukee game Thursday.
Offense was non-existent over long stretches for the Raiders, who went 18 of 53 (34 percent) from the field and 5 of 27 (18.5 percent) on 3-pointers. They scored just four points over the final six minutes.
But they parlayed miserly defense and a 38-30 rebounding edge into a 56-54 Horizon League victory for their first three-game winning streak of the season.
“I’m really pleased with the guys, how hard they played,” Nagy said. “They didn’t get discouraged by bad offense. That happens quite a bit when kids struggle offensively — they give in on the defensive end. Our guys did a great job with that.”
Leading scorer Bill Wampler went 0 for 9 from the floor. Mark Hughes, another veteran stalwart, was 1 for 10. And all-league-caliber point guard Cole Gentry had as many turnovers as points (two of each).
“In this day and age, all these young men know scoring is the deal. That’s how you get your name in the paper, and you don’t for defense,” Nagy said. “To not get discouraged by that, I think, speaks to their character.”
Sophomore center Loudon Love had 21 points and 12 rebounds. But the Raiders probably wouldn’t have prevailed without freshmen subs Skyelar Potter (10 points and six rebounds) and Malachi Smith (four points and five boards), both of whom were on the court in crunch time and had turnover-free games.
“The two freshmen off the bench gave us great minutes,” Nagy said. “I’m very pleased with how both of those guys are coming along. They’re really starting to give us depth.”
The Raiders (11-10, 5-3) had a six-point lead with six minutes to go, but the Panthers (9-12, 4-4) tied the game on a Darius Roy drive with 2:35 left.
Love made one of two foul shots for a 55-54 lead. And Milwaukee botched their next two possessions with a chance to take the lead, getting called for a shot-clock violation and then resorting to a hurried floater by Roy that missed.
Leading by one, Smith had a layup blocked, but the ball went out of bounds off the Panthers with 26 seconds to go. Hughes then made one of two free throws with 15.3 ticks left.
After a timeout, Jake Wright went for the win with a top-of-the-key 3-pointer, but it was blocked by Smith. And the Panthers’ rushed follow-up didn’t make it to the rim.
Miami and UIC had hit game-winning 3’s this season after Nagy switched to a zone, but the Raiders stayed with their man-to-man against Milwaukee.
“We were playing great defense. There was no reason to do that,” Nagy said.
James, who has an Autoimmune Disorder and is diabetic, is part of Team IMPACT, a Boston-based non-profit that connects seriously ill children with college teams.
“He suffers from the disease one of our former players (Austin Sipe) suffers from,” said coach Brian Arlinghaus, who introduced James to the crowd of 3,469 while surrounded by his players. “The fact that he can use Austin as a sounding board and also build relationships on the team, it will have a tremendous impact.”
Asked about being an honorary Raider, JJ said, “It’s exciting.”
His mother, Carly, said: “It’s such a great experience for him to get to bond with these guys and make relationships and learn about golf all at the same time.”