Men’s Basketball: Raiders win physical conference opener
It was emotional. It was physical. It is officially conference season.
Wright State (9-7) heralded the start of Horizon League play with a 76-64 victory over Oakland (5-11) Thursday in the Nutter Center.
Miles Dixon and Chrishawn Hopkins came off the bench for WSU to lead the team with 13 each. Cole Darling also came off the bench and contributed 10.
The Raiders literally had to fight their way to a win. WSU guard Kendall Griffin was ejected in the final minutes of the game after a pair of altercations.
“Conference game, things get heated, we’ll move on from it,” Darling said.
Wright State coach Billy Donlon said he was proud how his team remained even keeled throughout the contest.
“That is a really good team, they’re going to win a lot of games in our league,” Donlon said. “They are a tough team, that is a Horizon League game for you. Forty minutes and nobody quits.”
The first altercation happened after Mitch Baenziger tried to steal the ball from Griffin after the whistle had blown. The Raiders’ bench spilled onto the court as Oakland coach Greg Kampe kept his team from getting involved in the melee.
Moments later, Griffin was knocked to the ground. After being looked at by trainers, he gave the Oakland bench a stare that caused him to receive his second technical foul from referee Mike Sanzere. Griffin had to be restrained by teammate AJ Pacher before heading to the locker room.
“I don’t care who you are, it is hard, there is human emotion,” Donlon said. “They are out there playing and the game is kind of in hand, both sides kind of know it. Certainly from our perspective, we have to do a few things better. Am I mad at our players? No. Their hearts are in the right place. A couple guys are trying to defend a couple of their teammates. It is competitive athletics.”
WSU had its best rebounding game against a Division I opponent this season as the Raiders outrebounded the Grizzlies by 10.
“We tried to get all five guys going down low especially with (Oakland’s Corey) Petros down low,” Darling said. “They have their athletic three-four man going to the glass all the time so you have to find a body to box out.”
Wright State clicked offensively in the second half firing 46 points while shooting 64.7 percent from the field and 84 percent from the line.
The offensive performance was needed as Oakland made adjustments in the second half after trailing the Raiders 30-28 at halftime.
The Raiders held Travis Bader to three points in the first half. Bader, the nation’s leading 3-point shooter, had 12 points in the second half.
Donlon credited the performances of Jerran Young and Griffin for keeping Bader below his average of 22.1 points.
“He made two really hard ones late,” Donlon said. “He’s a great player and Greg Kampe is a phenomenal coach.”
The game plan was to keep an eye on Bader the entire game said Dixon.
“We were working on running off screens and doing 3-on-1 defense and helping in the gap a lot more because he leads the nation in 3-point field goals,” Dixon said. “They were trying to run slips a lot more (in the second half). That is how they scored a lot of their baskets in the first half and we adjusted to the slips and it also got him open more for some shots in the second.”
Darling returned to the lineup Thursday after sitting out Sunday’s contest with a shoulder injury. Along with his 10 points he had a team-leading seven rebounds.
“I am doing good,” Darling said. “Had to do some rehab on the shoulder so I am good.”
The Raiders remain unbeaten at home (8-0) but after four games at home, WSU must travel to Detroit Saturday. The Raiders will be looking for their first road win of the year after losing all seven away contests.