Men’s Basketball: WSU’s defense prevents Falcons from completing rally
The nonconference slate provided some bumps and bruises for Wright State but the Raiders feel battle tested going into Thursday’s conference opener versus Oakland.
WSU nearly squandered a 14-point second half lead but managed to hang onto a 46-43 win over Bowling Green Sunday.
The Raiders concluded the nonconference schedule at 8-7.
The last two months have been trying for Wright State head coach Billy Donlon. The team struggled on the road going 0-7, but the Raiders took care of home court going 7-0 in the Nutter Center.
“We have to understand that winning basketball games never changes regardless of your talent level,” Donlon said. “I am never going to run from the fact we have a lot of talent on the bench. We have a lot of good players but there are teams in our league that have a lot of talent.”
“To win, you have to pay the ultimate price every possession. Especially on the road, I think we didn’t do that. To be fair, I haven’t coached a great 15 games either. We all have to get better.”
The Raiders nearly went into the conference schedule with a losing record as Bowling Green went on a rally that cut WSU’s lead from 14 down to two. Wright State only made one field goal the final 8:33 of the game.
With the Raiders offense out of commission, the Raiders went to work defensively. After forcing 21 turnovers and keeping the Falcons to their lowest scoring output of the season, the defense did just enough to make up for the Raiders’ offensive woes.
Donlon said that he has seen a marked difference in the last four contests defensively.
“Since the second half of the Miami game, we have guarded much better,” Donlon said. “There were plays where we were up seven, nine or 11 in the last seven minutes where they scored on offensive rebounds.”
The Raiders also failed to convert on any of their 13 3-point attempts. With the outside shot not working, the game plan was to go inside to AJ Pacher who had a team-leading 14 points.
“We wanted to feed it in to the best big man in the country,” WSU guard Miles Dixon said after scoring 13. “We might as well start inside out, some of the 3s weren’t falling early so they were giving us driving lanes and post feeds so we followed the game plan.”
The Raiders started clicking late in the first half going into the second half. The contest was tied at 14 with eight minutes left in the first. Over the course of 16 minutes, the Raiders opened a 38-24 lead.
“We just stayed discipline and it was a little easier that we were mixing some stuff so we got some easy shots,” Pacher said. “But we just stayed the course and trusted our offense and it paid out.”
The Raiders welcomed a forward back while losing a forward due to injury.
Tavares Sledge made his season debut after serving 19 days in jail through Christmas morning. Sledge missed the first 14 games of the season after being suspended on Sept. 30 for a domestic dispute involving his girlfriend and their son.
Sledge entered five minutes into the game to a large ovation from the crowd. He kept the crowd cheering with a thunderous dunk just seconds later.
“I think the great thing about our community is that we understand everybody has made mistakes in their life and everybody deserves an opportunity and I am grateful that is the reception he got,” Donlon said. “I am glad he got that (reception) and I glad he dunked the first ball he got.”
Sledge played 14 minutes and added a pair of rebounds. He went to his girlfriend and son in the stands after the game to give them a big hug as he left for the locker room.
But what dampened Sledge’s return was the injury of Cole Darling. Darling aggravated his shoulder during practice last week. It is the same shoulder that was injured late last season that forced Darling to miss the final 10 games.
Donlon believed that the injury was not as serious and Darling could return Thursday for Oakland.