No doubt: Raiders start fast, finish strong in win

FAIRBORN — After manhandling Robert Morris by 25 points earlier this season, Wright State coach Scott Nagy felt some bad vibes prior to their rematch Saturday.

“I was very concerned about this game,” Nagy said. “When we played them there it felt so easy that I thought our players might think it was going to be the same way. (But) Our players just came ready.”

And then some.

Wright State scored the game’s first 14 points, never trailed, and only once let the lead slip under 10 in a 101-71 win in front of 5,057 inside the Nutter Center. It was WSU’s sixth 1oo-point game this season and its largest win against a Division-I team this year.

“We were tired of having close games,” said AJ Braun, who scored a career high 24 points on 9 of 10 shooting. “We wanted to go in there, set the tone. Be comfortable but also be aggressive and be who we are. That’s what we did.”

They did it in a big way.

The Raiders shot 72 percent in the first half and 64.2 percent for the game as they were able to shake off whatever caused the nation’s top shooting team to have a miserable shooting night (33.8 percent) in a Feb. 10 loss to Oakland.

“The only way you can process that is keep moving forward and trusting your work,” Braun said. “Can’t really reflect on ‘Oh we had a bad shooting night.’ Just stay on it and good things will come to you.”

They came early and often. And everybody got some as the Raiders had 20 assists on their 34 makes.

Wright State force-fed the bigs inside as Brandon Noel added 21 points to form a determined duo with Braun. Trey Calvin had 21 points and eight assists, while Alex Huibregtse added 14 points and four assists, and Tanner Holden 12 points, three assists, and one big (reads: huge) block.

The Colonials had trimmed what was a 30-13 lead to 30-21 with 5:54 left in the first half. Following a WSU miss, Chris Ford went up for a dunk on a defensive rebound. Holden came seemingly out of nowhere and played “Whack a Mole” with the ball, rattling the rim and backboard. Huibregtse then hit a three pointer at the other end to make the lead 33-21.

Ball game.

“It doesn’t seem like a lot when you look back at it, but the play of the game was Tanner blocking that dunk because they were kind of moving back into the game and Tanner just made a great play,” Nagy said.

It was just Holden being Holden.

“Me being a leader, I think I have to go try and make that play,” he said. “If I block it, if I foul him, just giving that extra effort shows the guys that we need to do that. Credit to Alex. Him hitting that shot is a huge shot.”

During the game, Holden scored his 2,000th career point. But afterward, he was more “us” than “me.”

“It doesn’t really matter to me how many points I score,” Holden said. “As long as we win, that’s the biggest key. You think about those things, and how sweet they probably are, individual accolades. But then if you really look at the big picture, you know hanging a banner is the biggest goal we have right now and that’s still in the hunt.”

The Raiders are 15-12 overall and 10-6 in the Horizon League, two and a half games behind Oakland. With four games left, there is little, if any, room for another loss. But as the HL tournament looms, the Raiders may be getting in position to make a run.

Defense has improved, as has the rebounding, especially at the defensive end. Robert Morris (10-17, 6-10) was 65th in the country in rebounding margin, and No. 2 in the Horizon League at 3.7. The Raiders won that battle on Saturday 33-23 and limited the Colonials to just four at the offensive end.

“We’re getting close,” Nagy said of the rebounding. “I think we’re getting close. Defensively it’s close to probably as good as I’ve seen us all year, just connected, tight. I think we held them to under one point per possession which is maybe the first time in league.”

Nagy was also pleased with his team’s overall appearance after fearing they lost their “mojo” offensively.

“We looked like a mess,” he said of the week’s practices. “(But) it was like everybody was emotionally here and if we do that, we will be fine.”

Wright State is at Detroit Mercy Feb. 22 and Oakland Feb. 25 before hosting Purdue Fort Wayne Feb. 28 and Northern Kentucky March 2.

Reach Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.