FAIRBORN -- Wright State had one of its sputtering starts that have become commonplace at home in the first of back-to-back games.
Robert Morris built an early 10-point bulge, and the Raiders shot a gruesome 17.6% in the opening 10 minutes while making just 3 of their first 17 flings.
The Horizon League’s last-place team — playing without the conference’s top scorer in A.J. Bramah — would surrender its lead but then fought back to tie it at 23.
Raiders coach Scott Nagy isn’t one to call momentum-slowing timeouts — he prefers to let his veteran squad fight its way through rough patches — but he took full advantage of a media stoppage late in the first half to give his players an earful.
“For the most part, I thought they played harder than we did,” he said. “They were missing some people, their best player, a potential MVP guy. Particularly in the first half, they were desperate and we were comfortable. It was very clear. They were out-rebounding us.
“Offensively, that wasn’t the problem for us. We were fine. Defensively, we weren’t any good at all compared to what we’re used to.”
Grant Basile pumped in a career-high 29 points — the most by a Raider this season — and snatched 11 rebounds in the 79-70 victory Friday night. Tanner Holden chipped in 16 points, and Jaylon Hall added 10 off the bench.
The Raiders (12-4, 10-3) stayed within one game of first-place Cleveland State (11-5, 11-2), which beat visiting Green Bay, 74-68.
But despite their fourthstraight win, the preseason league favorites left the court with a less-than-satisfying feeling.
Conference player of the year Loudon Love started 0 of 8 from the field and finished with seven points, the first time this season he’s failed to reach double figures.
“The last two Fridays, we came out a little flat,” Basile said. “There was an emphasis in practice to work on it. We didn’t do a great job of it. But we ended up getting the win.”
No team would actually WANT to face the Raiders without one of its star players. But playing short-handed has seemed to galvanize the opposition.
Youngstown State pulled off a road upset last month with all-league guard Darius Quisenberry back home nursing a bum ankle.
Green Bay, which showed up at the Nutter Center with an 0-7 record, was out-manned without second-leading scorer Josh Jefferson but fought all the way in a pair of closer-than-expected losses.
And Robert Morris showed plenty of spunk without Bramah, who is averaging 21.5 points and 9.7 rebounds. The senior forward reportedly was isolating back in Pittsburgh after a positive COVID-19 test.
“As much as you talk to your guys about not relaxing over it, there’s just the human nature side of it,” Nagy said. “We talked all week about how flat we’ve been on our Fridays at home. We come out here and do the same thing again. It’s going to have to change for our team if we want to be special.”
The Colonials (3-8, 2-6) have been hard hit by the virus. They’ve played the second-fewest games in the league with 11 and have lost five straight.
But after falling behind, 40-31, they rallied for a 40-40 tie with 14 minutes to go.
After another exchange of baskets, though, the Raiders went on a 10-2 run, capped by a Love three-point play, and were never threatened again.
Basile, the current league player of the week, made 13 of 20 shots. And he was feeling it. After a late bucket, he flexed his muscles to his teammates while trotting down the floor.
“Offensively, he’s being physical. And defensively, he’s done a pretty good job protecting the rim,” Nagy said. “We’re proud of him. He’s worked hard. He’s getting his chance and making the most of it.”
But Nagy wasn’t exactly in the mood for dishing out compliments after such an underwhelming showing.
“They do a great job of running their stuff. Whatever adjustments you make, they make great adjustments,” he said.
“We’re going to have our hands full (Saturday). I know that for sure. We’ve made them comfortable now.”
Robert Morris at Wright State, 5 p.m., ESPN+, 106.5
About the Author