FAIRBORN — Having a halftime lead hasn’t exactly been a great thing for the Wright State Raiders.
Prior to Thursday’s game against Cleveland State, they were 5-4 when leading at halftime, with two of those losses coming on a recent swing through Wisconsin where they lost to Green Bay and Milwaukee by surrendering a combined 102 second-half points.
“We know there’s been a pattern of we have a lead in the first half and it gets away from us in the second half … ,” center A.J. Braun said.
Not this time.
After leading 39-35 at the half, Wright State limited the Vikings to 35 points on 32.56 percent shooting in the second half, en route to an 82-70 victory in a must-win game, televised nationally on ESPN2. Forward Brandon Noel scored a game-high 24 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while guard Trey Calvin added 20 points and Braun 16 for the Raiders, 7-8 overall and 2-2 in the Horizon League.
“We were able to withstand some of their blows and it’s good for us,” Noel said. “I feel like we learned a little bit right away from that road trip because both those games we were up at half. Same thing happened today and we were able to, like I said, withstand their runs. That was good for us. So I think we already have a little bit of a learning that we’ve done from that last road trip and it’s something today that we capitalized on and it was really big for us.”
It actually didn’t take until the second half for the Raiders to show their moxie.
Up 25-10 with 12:27 left in the first half, the Raiders became a little sloppy with the ball, turning it over three times and missing six straight shots as the Vikings scored 15 straight to tie it with 7:47 left. A Tanner Holden layup after an offensive rebound, and then a layup from Noel gave the Raiders a 29-25 lead with 6:48 left, sparking a 10-2 run by WSU that ended when the Vikings made a layup with 2:37 left to make it 35-29. CSU scored six straight to cut it to four at halftime.
“We kind of got squirrelly a little bit offensively,” Coach Scott Nagy said. “I can’t hear what people say, but I’m sure people were screaming call timeout, it’s just not what I do. Our players responded. They scored the next two baskets. I don’t think we lost the lead after that.”
That would be correct.
The Vikings (10-6, 3-2) trimmed the lead to three after a free throw about 30 seconds into the second half, but the Raider lead never dipped below five, reached 18 at one point, and was in double digits most of the time.
“With how many times we’ve had the lead in the second half and what we’ve done with them, the difference (Thursday) was the defense. We gave up 13 offensive rebounds and turned the ball over 13 times in the second half. Normally when that happens, your’re gonna get crushed. The difference was we guarded.”
The Raiders didn’t allow Cleveland State much inside in the second half and surrendered just six fast-break points. In addition to limiting the Vikings second-half makes, the Raiders also defended well from the perimeter as the Vikings made just three of 15 three-point shots.
“The defense can overcome even bad offense,” Nagy said. “We’ve already proven that good offense and bad defense is not a great formula for winning. We’re just trying to get our guys to view the whole game differently and who they are as defenders and what their value is to the team by defense and not offense.”
On Thursday, that mission was accomplished.
Next game: The Raiders are at Purdue Fort Wayne for a 1 p.m. game Saturday, then visit Robert Morris Wednesday, Jan. 10, and Youngstown State Friday, Jan. 12 for another ESPN2 game. They return home for a 7 p.m. game against Green Bay Thursday, Jan. 18.
Barefoot on the sidelines
Nagy coached the game barefoot in support of Samaritan’s Feet, a humanitarian aid organization that serves and inspires hope by providing shoes to those in need around the world.
“I do it every year, almost every year,” Nagy said. “Got started with it because of our daughter, Naika, who we adopted from Haiti. Trying to help her country. Got involved with a great guy, Manny Ohonme, who runs Samaritan’s Feet. Started it.”
The organization just gave away its 10 millionth pair of shoes in October. Nagy is listed on the organization’s website with other “Advisors & Ambassadors” including Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari, and former coaches Dale Brown and Homer Drew. But he’s not doing it for recognition.
“I believe in (Ohonme),” Nagy said. “I don’t like when people try to make themselves look good. It concerns me a little bit just to go barefoot … everybody look at me. That’s not why I’m doing it. I’m doing it because I want to help out Manny’s cause. We’ve taken taken teams on two overseas trips that have been maybe the best thing we’ve ever done with a basketball team. That cause is very important to me.”
Reach Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.