Wright State earns first-round bye with second half rally

Justin Boggs, Sports Writer

After enduring a tough challenge at last place Illinois-Chicago, Wright State put together a strong second half effort to top UIC 68-61 Saturday to earn the No. 3 seed in this week’s Horizon League Championships.

The win clinches a first-round bye for the Raiders and Wright State will know its opponent for Friday’s quarterfinal round after first round games are played Tuesday.

Wright State finishes the regular season with an 18-13 overall record and a 10-6 Horizon League ledger. The Raiders are carrying a four-game winning streak into the postseason.

AJ Pacher led Wright State with 16 points and eight rebounds. Fellow senior Matt Vest was also in double figures with 11 points.

“I am proud of what AJ Pacher did,” Wright State head coach Billy Donlon said. “He took over the game. We ran every play for him.”

“If Matt Vest and AJ Pacher aren’t All-Conference players in the conference games, I don’t know who is,” Donlon added. “Those two guys deserve to be All-Conference players, we’re the third place team. I am not jumping up and down about that, we wanted to win the championship, but we’re still in the top three.”

UIC’s Kelsey Barlow scored 16, 14 of which came in the second half as he sat most of the first half in foul trouble.

The Raiders’ defense was stellar down the stretch. With UIC nursing a 50-49 lead with 8:40 left, Wright State prevented the Flames from making another field goal the rest of the contest.

Things looked good for the Raiders early. The Raiders jumped out to a seven-point advantage midway through the first half as Barlow left the game four minutes into the game with two fouls.

But UIC rallied as the Raiders got into early foul trouble. Wright State had six players with two fouls at halftime. WSU weathered an 11-0 UIC run in the first half as the Flames held a 33-32 halftime advantage.

“We were out toughed in the first half,” Donlon said. “Everything for them was at the rim, in the paint, at the foul line and we challenged our guys at halftime and our seniors really stepped up.”

UIC regained a five-point lead early in the second half. The Raiders answered with a 12-0 run. The Flames had four turnovers in seven possessions during WSU’s run.

And then the Raiders went to work late in the second half preventing UIC from making field goals. Despite not doing well from the field, UIC made free throws going 14-for-15 from the line in the second half.

“It is a quality win,” Donlon said. “People think you can come on the road and you think UIC has a bad record and a tough season and you just win the game. Basketball doesn’t work that way. Every 40 minutes is a new night and if you don’t come in ready to play, you’re going to get beat.”

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