Wright State’s Tanner Holden defends against Milwaukee earlier this season at the Nutter Center. Joseph Craven/WSU Athletics

Wright State basketball: Raiders squeak by Panthers with defense, free throws

Wright State lost star center Loudon Love for almost the last nine minutes of the game, shot just 39.3 percent from the field and was outscored 15-2 over a key second-half stretch.

But despite looking wobbly at times on the road, the Raiders turned a dogged defensive effort and stellar free-throw shooting into a 65-61 win over Milwaukee on Friday to improve to 19-4 overall and 9-1 in the Horizon League, matching the best conference start in their Division-I history.

They also went 9-1 in 2017-18 before suffering their second league loss in their next game.

The Panthers (10-12, 5-5) had just 19 points in the first half and didn’t reach the 20s until nearly two minutes into the second half. They went 3 of 20 on 3-pointers and 25 of 61 overall (41%).

“I’m really proud of them,” coach Scott Nagy said of his players on his post-game radio show. “It wasn’t perfect. It was ugly. But defense travels, it just does. And we were good defensively.”

Ranked 302nd nationally in foul shooting at 65.9%, the Raiders went 8 of 10 in the final 3:15 and made 19 of 26 overall (73.1%).

Bill Wampler had 19 points and Tanner Holden, who was shooting 58.5% on free throws, went 7 of 8 on his way to 16 points.

Love notched his ninth double-double, finishing with 16 points and 13 rebounds before being ejected with 8:57 left for a Flagrant 2 foul.

Nagy didn’t necessarily agree with the call — the burly junior was tossed after getting tangled up with a Milwaukee player — but the coach felt his team would hold up just fine.

“When Loudon went out, I felt good about (our chances),” he said. “When something like that happens, it sometimes gives your team energy and resolve. And our guys really showed that.”

The Raiders had a 43-32 edge on a Cole Gentry layup with 12:45 to go, but they managed just two points after that until Holden hit a pair of foul shots with 6:14 left.

It was a tussle the rest of the way.

Two free throws by Wampler and a jumper by Holden made it 61-57 with 2:12 to go.

Josh Thomas hit a lay-up to cut it to two, and the Panthers had two shots on a late possession to tie it. But Grant Basile, Love’s replacement, blocked one and grabbed the rebound on the next.

He was fouled with 22 seconds left and made one of two foul shots for a three-point lead. After another Panther miss, Trey Calvin was fouled and made one of two.

Te’Jon Lucas hit a layup with 5.5 seconds left to slice it to two again. But Jaylon Hall was hacked and sealed the win with a pair of foul shots.

“Free throws are big to me,” said Nagy, whose team is 9-4 in games decided by seven points or fewer. “We shoot 26 and they shoot 10. That’s how you win the game.”

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