Wright State basketball: Raiders overcome defensive lapses to beat Panthers

Wright State’s Loudon Love puts up a shot over two Milwaukee players during a game at the Nutter Center on Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. Joseph Craven/WSU Athletics
Wright State’s Loudon Love puts up a shot over two Milwaukee players during a game at the Nutter Center on Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. Joseph Craven/WSU Athletics

When Milwaukee ended a high-scoring first half with six unanswered points, including a tip-dunk at the buzzer, Wright State coach Scott Nagy was so upset that he started his halftime diatribe even before reaching the locker room.

He barked at players as they trotted past him and really let loose about their defensive effort once they were behind closed doors.

“He was hot at halftime,” freshman Tanner Holden said with a shake of his head.

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Senior Bill Wampler agreed: “He said we can’t rely on our offense. We’ve seen that this year. It’s been pretty inconsistent.”

The Raiders shot 64.3 percent but led only 52-46 because the lightly regarded Panthers shot 53.1.

“I can’t tell you how bothered I am by that,” Nagy said. “I’m extremely annoyed by the pattern we have in the first half of getting teams down and letting them back in it.

“Walking in (at halftime), it sounds like they won the national championship. That’s not the kind of basketball we want to play.”

The Raiders responded to Nagy’s challenge. They held the visitors to 24 points in the second half on 41.7-percent shooting in an 82-70 victory Monday, lifting their record to 12-3 overall and 2-0 in the Horizon League.

They went into the game 64th nationally in offensive efficiency at 1.042 points per possession but were 108th in defensive efficiency with a 0.931 clip.

“We’re playing faster. We’re scoring a lot of points. We have a deeper team. All of that is great. Love it, love it, love it,” Nagy said. “It’s always been our goal to recruit better offensive players and turn them loose and share the ball — but absolutely demand they play defense and rebound. And right now, we’re not getting the defensive portion up to where we want it.”

The Raiders put five players in double figures with Wampler getting 17, Loudon Love 16 (with nine rebounds), Holden 14, Cole Gentry 12 and James Manns 11.

Jaylon Hall had just five points but dished out a career-high eight assists. The sophomore wing leads the team with a 3.5 average.

Record pace: The Raiders are off to the best 15-game start in their Division I history (since 1987). They had a handful of better 15-game starts as a D-II team, including 1982-83 when they went 28-4 while winning the national title.

Early dominance: Wright State went on a 21-5 run in a span of 4:20 in the first half, and everybody got into the act. Hall, Gentry, Holden, Wampler and Manns all hit 3's in the flurry, pushing the lead to 43-28.

The Panthers (5-9, 0-2) fought back and trailed just 66-61 with 9:12 to go. But Love, who had three dunks, converted a three-point play with 7:59 left, igniting an 8-0 surge to put the game away.

Long-range artillery: The Raiders had their second straight solid showing from long range, going 11 of 19 on 3-pointers. They were 11 of 25 against Green Bay on Saturday.

“It’s great to see us shooting the ball like I thought we could. That helps. That’s going to open the middle up for Loudon,” Nagy said.

Memorable night: The Raiders pulled off the biggest upset in their history 20 years ago Monday, beating No. 6 Michigan State, 53-49, at the Nutter Center.

A 23-point underdog, coach Ed Schilling’s team, which was just 3-8, relied on a deliberate attack and zone defense to shock the Spartans, who would go on to win the NCAA championship. Kelvin Melson had 16 points for the winners.

Coming up: The Raiders will get rare national exposure when they visit Oakland (6-8) at 7 p.m. Friday in an ESPNU game. They'll play three straight on the road after that against Detroit, IUPUI and UIC.

FRIDAY’S GAME

Wright State at Oakland, 7 p.m., ESPNU, 106.5