Wright State shocked in Horizon League quarterfinals: ‘We should’ve been able to put that game away’

Wright State forward Grant Basile tries to drive on Milwaukee forward Tafari Simms during a Horizon League quarterfinal at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Mar. 2, 2021. Wright State lost 94-92. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED

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Wright State forward Grant Basile tries to drive on Milwaukee forward Tafari Simms during a Horizon League quarterfinal at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Mar. 2, 2021. Wright State lost 94-92. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED

Raiders blow 24-point lead in final 6:26, fall in overtime

FAIRBORN — Wright State’s season is over.

Barring an invitation to the NIT as an at-large-team — which seems unlikely since the tourney was trimmed from 32 to 16 teams — the Raiders can clean out their lockers and put their uniforms in storage until November.

Other losses through the years may have registered near the max on the pain meter for the program. There was a defeat in the 2014 Horizon League championship game at the Nutter Center with an NCAA berth at stake. The dejection from that one had a long shelf life.

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But the 94-92 overtime home loss Tuesday to eighth-seeded Milwaukee — which showed up with a losing record and a NET ranking of 249 nationally — was so unforeseen and ruined such a promising season that it may rise to the top among the most devastating setbacks in the team’s 33-year Division-I history.

As one longtime Wright State follower said afterward, “That might be the worst ever.”

The players walked off in stunned silence — all except sophomore star Grant Basile, who sat, shoeless, alone on the bench for nearly a half-hour.

Coach Scott Nagy took the classy road. While regular-season games ended with a wave to the other bench, he sought out Milwaukee coach Pat Baldwin and his assistants for congratulatory handshakes and hugs. But the doesn’t mean he wasn’t hurting.

The second-seeded Raiders (18-6) were No. 62 in the NET rankings, the highest in the league by nearly 100 spots. And after leading by 18 at halftime, they built a 72-48 lead with 6:26 to go.

But the Panthers (10-11) showed their mettle in two commendable showings in the Nutter Center in February — losing by 11 and 10 — and the Raiders began crumbling after that and couldn’t get it stopped, giving up 46 points over the last 11:15 (second half and overtime).

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Wright State head coach Scott Nagy watches his team take on Milwaukee during a Horizon League quarterfinal at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Mar. 2, 2021. Wright State lost 94-92. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED

Wright State head coach Scott Nagy watches his team take on Milwaukee during a Horizon League quarterfinal at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Mar. 2, 2021. Wright State lost 94-92. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED

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Wright State head coach Scott Nagy watches his team take on Milwaukee during a Horizon League quarterfinal at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Mar. 2, 2021. Wright State lost 94-92. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED

That’s almost as much as they gave up over entire games against Miami (47), Cleveland State (49) and Oakland (51).

They squandered a 35-point, 14-rebound effort by Basile, the most points by a Raider this season. “We talked about the last time we played them,” Nagy said, noting how Milwaukee out-scored his team in the two second halves, 53-50 and 45-40. “Things were (in control) then, too. We know they don’t go away. They just haven’t.

“I think you have to give Pat a lot of credit. Those kids fight. Every time we’ve played them, they fought. We’d get them down and can’t put them away. This time it caught up with us.”

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Two-time HL player of the year Loudon Love fouled out with 2:12 to go in regulation, finishing with 14 points and six rebounds. But the Raiders were up by 10 when he left and didn’t seem to have reason to worry.

“We should’ve been able to put that game away,” Nagy said. “There’s just some things we didn’t execute. It’s part of the deal. People make mistakes, and I made the most of them.”

The league gave Wright State a 10-day layoff before its first tourney game as a top-four seed. If Nagy had his way, though, he would have said, “Thanks, but no thanks” to the hiatus.

In an interview a day before facing Milwaukee, he said: “I told my wife (Jamie), ‘I’m just sick of sitting around and waiting. We need to play the games.’”

But the Raiders can’t exactly pin this one on rust.

The preseason favorites looked in peak form at the start, getting a pair of 3′s from Tim Finke and racing to a 20-10 lead eight minutes into the game.

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Wright State center Loudon Love grabs a defensive rebound against Milwaukee forward Tafari Simms during a Horizon League quarterfinal at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Mar. 2, 2021. Wright State lost 94-92. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED

Wright State center Loudon Love grabs a defensive rebound against Milwaukee forward Tafari Simms during a Horizon League quarterfinal at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Mar. 2, 2021. Wright State lost 94-92. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED

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Wright State center Loudon Love grabs a defensive rebound against Milwaukee forward Tafari Simms during a Horizon League quarterfinal at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Mar. 2, 2021. Wright State lost 94-92. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED

A Basile 3 made it 23-12 with 10 minutes to go. And Milwaukee burned two timeouts trying to slow the onslaught.

The Raiders went 18 of 32 from the field (56.3%) and had a 22-11 rebounding edge in the first half.

But while they’ve had several lulls in games, the closing meltdown was by far their worst stretch this season.

They committed five turnovers and went only 7 of 12 on free throws in the final six minutes.

Third-team all-league guard Te’Jon Lucas’ layup with 25 seconds to go cut the lead to 76-74.

Wright State star Tanner Holden then made two free throws.

Lucas, a 77.3% foul-shooter, was hacked on a 3 with 17 seconds left but made only 1 of 3.

After Holden hit 1 of 2 free throws, Milwaukee’s Josh Thomas swished a 3 to make it a one-point game.

With 8.3 seconds left, Holden then calmly made two free throws.

But DeAndre Gholston, who racked up 31 points, buried a game-tying 3 with 1.3 seconds left.

“I thought defensively for most of that game, we played really well,” Nagy said. “But those guys, every time we’ve played them, haven’t quit.”

The Raiders had an 87-83 lead in the OT but then collapsed after that.

Gholston hit six straight free throws in the final 38.7 seconds to build a five-point lead. Finke made a 3 with four seconds go. But after two missed free throws from Lucas, the night ended on a long heave by Calvin that didn’t come close.

The Raiders, who committed 20 turnovers, were looking for their first NCAA trip since 2018. But they fell short while the other top seeds all squeaked by: No. 1 Cleveland State in triple OT, No. 3 Oakland in OT and No. 4 Northern Kentucky by a single point.

“As much as you’d like everyone to do things exactly the way you practice them and all that stuff, we didn’t,” Nagy said. “... Like I say, we’re dealing with human beings that make mistakes, and I made the most of them.”

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