Wright State hustles its way back to Horizon League championship game

Wright State’s Alan Vest during last week’s game vs. Cleveland State. Keith Cole/CONTRIBUTED

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Wright State’s Alan Vest during last week’s game vs. Cleveland State. Keith Cole/CONTRIBUTED

No. 1 seed.

Defending champs.

Preseason favorite.

20-point lead.

A 66-54 win over Green Bay still came down to doing the dirty work for Wright State on Monday night in the Horizon League men's basketball tournament semifinals at Little Caesar's Arena.

>>READ MORE: Raiders earn tourney title game berth

“To win in the tournament the ball’s gotta bounce your way,” Green Bay coach Linc Darner said. “The ball bounced more their way.”

But this was a case of the Raiders creating their own luck, at least in the eyes of their opponent.

“They got loose balls,” Darner said. “They dove on the floor. A couple times late in the game, Cole Gentry loses the ball, we don’t dive on it, they pick it up, we foul them and then it’s an and-one. If we dive on the floor and get the ball, who knows?”

Such a scenario played out with the Raiders nursing a 54-50 lead with under six minutes to go.

Wright State senior Alan Vest came up with the ball out of crowd under the basket and laid it in while being fouled by Cody Schwartz. He hit the free throw to make it a seven-point game.

After the Raiders got a defensive stop, sharp-shooter Bill Wampler found himself with the ball on the low block. He maneuvered himself free for another layup and suddenly the Raiders were up nine again with under five minutes to play.

“Our M.O. is to try to get more hustle plays than the other team, especially guys like Alan,” said Wampler, who scored a game-high 18 points. “Early he had all the hustle plays, and if we see him doing it, it’s contagious. Then (center) Loudon (Love) jumps on the floor, we’ll all start diving on the floor, taking charges. Coach says we’re not the most talented team all the time, but we do all the toughness things and find ways to win.”

Naturally, that is music to the ears of Wright State coach Scott Nagy, whose team has an opportunity to earn back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances for the first time in school history with a win in Tuesday night’s Horizon League championship game.

“As a whole we do take pride in that,” Nagy said. “We’re not this unbelievably talented team. Athletically it’s not hard to look out there and see we struggle with Green Bay because they pressure and they cause some problems for us, but we do have tough kids.”

Prior to the season, the Raiders were picked to win the league, but they struggled out of the gate and little resembled a tournament team in December or early January.

“We lost a lot of close games early in the year, we played a very tough schedule and were 2-3 at one point in the league,” Nagy said. “And these guys never hung their head. They just continued to do what we asked them to do. The thing that really changed for us is we went from a bad defensive team to a great defensive team.”

That Vest, a senior from Chaminade Julienne whose father, Mark, and older brother, Matt, wore the Green and Gold before him, would be in the middle of a grimy, game-changing play came as little surprise.

He made his first career start earlier in the season and has provided those glue-type plays more often than not even as Gentry and Love score more points and get more headlines.

“We love Al to death,” Nagy said. “Al went three years and never played for us. I guess you’d call him a legacy. His dad played at Wright State, his brother played at Wright State and now he is.

“If there’s anybody on our team that it means something, it means something to him. He’ll do whatever he has to do.

“For me as a coach it’s such a joy to be able to see him play because the first two years I was here he never saw the floor. Tremendous teammate. Never moped, just was the greatest guy even though he wasn’t in a situation that he liked. So for it to pay off for him this year and really be a contributor for us, it’s probably one of the greatest joys I have on this team.”

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