Men’s Basketball: Raiders return to Horizon League title game
No. 3 seed Wright State will make a reappearance in the Horizon League title game after the Raiders topped No. 2 seed Cleveland State 68-63 Saturday in Green Bay.
The Raiders will face Milwaukee – who defeated Green Bay in overtime late Saturday night – at the Nutter Center Tuesday night.
“Every time we play Cleveland State, it always comes down to the last five minutes of the game,” Wright State head coach Billy Donlon said. “I’ve got great respect for what coach (Gary) Waters has done over his career. He’s won everywhere he’s been. They have a terrific team.”
Cole Darling tied his season high with 21 points and led Wright State. Miles Dixon followed an impressive outing Friday with a 17-point performance Saturday. AJ Pacher was also in double figures with 11.
The Raiders had another impressive night shooting the ball at 55 percent.
“Coach has us in the gym shooting, too,” Darling said. “We work all year for the tournament time. That’s what all the games leading up to this are for. We worked hard all year, we worked hard going into these last couple of games and it’s shown.”
Donlon has started his five seniors the last four contests. The results have paid dividends as WSU has won all four games. The Raiders are going into Tuesday’s title game red-hot on a six-game winning streak.
“Cole Darling was an all-conference player a year ago, he had major surgery in the offseason, and he’s finally playing the way we hoped he’d play as a senior,” Donlon said. “Jerran Young is a very good player. We’ve got five excellent seniors. What those five seniors have done, coming into this tournament, is off the charts. It’s all about them and obviously their teammates.”
The season has turned around from a rough start. Going into a road contest at Oakland, WSU had a 6-6 conference record and a 14-13 (12-13 in Division I) overall record. After Pacher hit the game-winner at Oakland on Feb. 16, the Raiders have won all six and playing their best basketball of the season.
“We had a feeling this game would happen, whether we were the two or three-seed,” Donlon said. “And I just think our guys were really motivated. We’ve got good players. I’ve said it for two years. They’ve played like good players all year. It’s just unfortunate in the game of basketball that we determine all league stuff, mostly 95 percent, by offensive statistics.”
The Raiders defense showed up early as the Raiders kept the Vikings from getting on the board until 6:30 into the first when Charlie Lee scored for Cleveland State.
After a 7-0 start for the Raiders, the Vikings rallied with a 12-0 run.
Back to back 3s by Jerran Young gave the Raiders a 15-14 lead with nine minutes remaining.
Later in the first half, the Raiders went on a 7-0 run to take a 37-31 lead into halftime. Wright State shot 61 percent from the field in the first half.
The Raiders kept their lead at one or two possessions until the midpoint of the second half. Trey Lewis made a pair of baskets during a CSU 7-0 run which gave the Vikings a 50-49 lead.
The Raiders answered as Darling made a pair of free throws and Dixon notched a three-point play to give the Raiders a 54-50 lead with six minutes left.
The Raiders’ free throw shooting went to work down the stretch and kept the lead at two possessions for most of the last few minutes preventing Cleveland State from rallying.