Raiders earn first DI postseason victory in team history with 72-52 win over Tulsa
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The long wait is over.
It took 25 years, but the men’s basketball team scored their first postseason victory since joining Division I with a 72-52 win over Tulsa Wednesday.
“I’m really happy for our players,” Wright State head coach Billy Donlon said after the game. “Coaching is about preparing kids for life, and sometimes in life you work really, really hard for something and not attain it. These guys worked really hard to go to the NCAA Tournament and unfortunately we did not attain that. Life is about how you measure up when something doesn’t go your way.”
Sophomore guard Kendall Griffin led the Raiders by tying his career-high with 15 points. Griffin connected on three shots from outside on a night where WSU hit nine three-pointers.
“Kendall’s played outstanding here at both ends of the floor,” Donlon said. “As I’ve said a million times, how he wasn’t all-defensive team in our league, I’ll never know. Now he’s putting it together where he doesn’t have to rest on offense.”
The Raiders came out strong behind Griffin, who scored nine of his points in the first half. WSU led Tulsa for most of the half and built a 32-23 lead going into the break. Aggressive and stingy defense slowed the Golden Hurricanes, who shot 28 percent (7-25) and committed seven turnovers before intermission.
“We played with a little more intensity and urgency,” Donlon said. “With Tulsa, they can get out in transition and go and kind of turn it into more of an open floor game, and we didn’t want that.”
But WSU couldn’t carry that intensity over to start the second half. Poor defense in the paint and an offensive lapse allowed Tulsa to tie the game at 36 with 16:06 to play. From that point, the Raiders played with the urgency Donlon preached in the first half. Five quick points from freshman guard Joe Bramanti helped WSU gain a 45-38 lead. From there, the junior duo of Jerran Young and Miles Dixon took over.
Young scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half and helped ice the game for the Raiders. During a three minute stretch late in the game, Young tallied nine points while Donlon rode the hot hand. It didn’t hurt when Dixon (12 points) heated up and started hitting shots.
“This is one of Miles Dixon’s best games as a player,” Donlon said. “I don’t know if the stats will bare that out. He really played well and helped our defense and defensive game plan.”
Opportunistic defense proved vital for the Raiders. They forced Tulsa to shoot 34.7 percent for the night (17-49) and created 14 turnovers—which they converted into 19 points. Senior guard Scottie Haralson led the Golden Hurricanes with 13 points while his freshman backcourt mate James Woodard added 12 points.
WSU played efficiently on offense, shooting 47.3 percent (27-55) and turned the ball over only 11 times. The 72 points tied the third-highest total of the season for the Raiders.
“It was a good effort,” Donlon said. “Other than the first four minutes of the second half, I thought our guys did a lot of positive things.”
Next up for the Raiders is a quarterfinal matchup with Richmond, who beat Bryant 76-71. WSU will host the game at 7 p.m. Monday night. It’s an unexpected gift for fans after Athletic Director Bob Grant previously said the team wouldn’t host another game unless they made the championship.
For Donlon—a coach whose stock is on the rise—the win represents another step for his emerging program. After struggling through a 13-19 season last year and dealing with a mass exodus of players, Donlon maintained belief. Now, he has a team picked to finish last in the preseason polls deep into the postseason.
“I told them we would have a grumpy guy (Bill Donlon Sr.) at my house tonight if we didn’t win,” Donlon joked after the game. “I don’t want to have a grumpy father at home—that’s tough to deal with.”
Both Donlon Sr. and Jr. can rest easy as they celebrate a landmark win for the Raider program.