Wright State Beats Top Team in Horizon (Again)
by Aaron Lynn
Image Courtesy of WSU Raiders
The Wright State Raiders (12-10, 5-6 Horizon) grabbed their best win of the season in an overtime thriller against the team at the top of the Horizon League Standings, the Milwaukee Panthers (14-7, 8-3 Horizon). Then, just 12 days later, they did it all over again.
In the two games since their meeting with the Panthers, Wright State had struggled, dropping back-to-back home contests against Purdue-Fort Wayne and Cleveland State. Slow starts had doomed the Raiders and the Horizon League tournament champions from last season were in danger of falling all the way to ninth in the conference with another loss.
No better time to put on a clinic. Wright State completely frustrated Milwaukee in the first half, forcing 15 Panther turnovers which turned into 24 WSU points and allowed just two made baskets from beyond the arc. The frustration built and Milwaukee was whistled for two technical fouls in the closing minutes of the half. Wright State took a 47-26 lead into halftime thanks to big contributions from the bench. Andrew Welage scored 15 and A.J. Braun added another 10 to pace the first half Raider scoring.
The offensive woes were particularly troublesome for Milwaukee, a team that looks to set up their aggressive zone press defense off of a make. The Panthers have great length and typically cause headaches (and turnovers) for opposing teams trying to break through the press.
To their credit, Milwaukee played a much better second half scoring 60 points, but the 21-point halftime deficit was ultimately too much to overcome. The Panthers did whittle down the lead to just 5 in the final minute, but free throws from Keaton Norris and Andrew Welage clinched a 93-86 Wright State victory. Wright State’s Alex Huibregtse helped his team stay in the lead and set a career high with 25 points and 5 treys. His roommate, Andrew Welage also provided a career high with 19 points. On the other side, BJ Freeman poured in 26 points for Milwaukee and now has 20+ points in seven of his last eight contests.
What does this mean for Milwaukee? Perhaps nothing, if the Panthers can quickly shake off their worst loss in conference play to this point. A team picked 9th in the Horizon League preseason poll has flourished under first year head coach Bart Lundy and is exceeding all expectations. However, the Panthers will need to refocus immediately as a date at Northern Kentucky awaits on Saturday in a game that could have major implications on the regular season title. The Norse entered Thursday tied with Milwaukee atop the Horizon League standings with an 8-2 conference record and now sits in sole possession of first after handling the Green Bay Phoenix.
What does this mean for Wright State? This win is precisely what the doctor ordered for the Raiders. Given that six road games are ahead in February alone, Wright State desperately needed positive momentum. Grabbing a regular season title is likely out of the question given the six conference losses, but claiming a top four seed in the Horizon League tournament may still be within reach. Considering that a top four seed guarantees a home quarterfinal game and a bye week in the first round, the Raiders still have a lot to play for.
After the game, Wright State coach Scott Nagy praised his team for their impressive first half and defensive prowess but noted that his team was moving in the wrong direction in terms of taking caring of the ball. The Raiders committed a combined 40 turnovers in their two meetings with the Panthers. He also mentioned that “nobody [in the locker room] is surprised by what we do” referring to the fact that he expects his team to compete with and beat the top teams in the conference. He also mentioned that the team “shoots near 50%”, and he’s correct. Entering today, the Raiders were ranked seventh in the nation for field goal percentage at just a touch over 50%. One reason for the efficient shooting is their willingness to play “old school” basketball using post players to queue the offense. For more on that style of play and on breakout Wright State freshman Brandon Noel, check out our article here.
Wright State accomplished a lot in March last season, winning the Horizon League Tournament and claiming their first ever victory in the NCAA Tournament. With nine players returning from that team and the clear capability to knock off the top teams in the conference, Wright State could still be a sneaky, dark horse team come Horizon League tournament time. The Raiders square off against Green Bay on Saturday to close out their four-game home stand.