The Raiders (18-6) are ranked 24th in the country in defensive efficiency, allowing a mere .912 points per possession. They went into the tourney as regular-season co-champs and the clear favorite because they could win games with either their offense or defense.
But they ended up on the wrong side of what kenpom.com — a website run by analytics guru Ken Pomeroy — labeled the most improbable comeback in college basketball this season.
The second-most improbable comeback was also pulled off by the Panthers (10-11). Trailing by 14 with two minutes to go at Cleveland State, they forced OT by going on an offensive splurge, outscoring the Vikings, 21-7, over that stretch on the way to an 81-80 win.
“It’s obviously, for our players, one of — if not THE — most disappointing losses they’ve ever had. And I would say (it is) for me, too,” coach Scott Nagy said.
Asked about the mood in the locker room, he said: “It’s low. What you’d expect. It’s painful. Life’s painful when you pour your heart into something like that.
“There’s a lot of people who probably never feel like that because most people don’t really, really pour their heart into something and then don’t get it. That’s very painful. But that’s part of what living is like.”
Longtime Wright State followers had a hard time remembering a loss as difficult to fathom as this one.
Wright State center Loudon Love scores despite the pressure of 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
In 1993-94, the Raiders faced Pacific in the San Juan Shootout and had a seven-point edge with 19 seconds to go. They blew the lead and lost in overtime.
But the stakes were so much higher in this game — and it seemed to be in the Raiders’ grasp at multiple stages.
They led, 75-67, after a Grant Basile layup at 1:02 in regulation. The sophomore forward was sensational with 35 points (the most by a Raider in four years) and 14 rebounds.
They led, 79-75, when Tanner Holden hit one of two free throws with 16 seconds to go. But the Panthers hit a 3 with 8.3 seconds left and, after Holden went 2 of 2 on foul shots, made another 3 with 1.3 seconds to go.
The Raiders didn’t help themselves by going 7 of 12 on foul shots in crunch time. They also committed five turnovers, four of them by the usually reliable Trey Calvin.
The sophomore point guard had a career-high six after committing just 34 in the first 23 games.
“Turnovers maybe more than anything hurt us,” said Nagy, whose team also squandered a four-point lead with 2:27 left in OT. “We had too many empty possessions.
“When we got the lead, we probably lost some of our aggressiveness. It’s hard to play that way — when they’re aggressive and you’re not — and you end up turning the ball over.”
Nagy insisted he could have done more to affect the outcome. But apart from having someone foul before allowing the game-tying 3 — an oft-debated late-game strategy — there didn’t seem to be much he could do.
He said words were few after such an abrupt end to the season ... and he doesn’t see much point in rehashing the loss with his players.
“We’re just going to have to give them some time to get away from it, and that’ll be hard because there’s still so much left — the NCAA tournament and all those things,” he said. “Until those are over, it’s painful to watch because you want to be part of it.
“It’ll take a little time to move past it. But it’ll happen. We’ve done it every year. It’s painful. But like I say, there’s no guarantees in life.”