No one asked Wright State coach Billy Donlon for his preseason prediction three months ago when the Raiders were picked to finish last in the Horizon League.
“I would have said you put everyone up there in the one slot, because that’s how good it is,” Donlon said. “The Horizon League’s RPI is 12th. When we had Butler, we were 12th. We don’t have Butler, and we’re 12th. It’s an unbelievable league. I have a lot of respect for Butler, but let’s get on board with our league. It’s still as good as it’s ever been.”
Two days into the conference schedule, the Raiders are helping prove that true. They didn’t look like a last-place team Thursday night in their first Horizon League game of the season. They looked like a contender, beating Green Bay 64-53 at the Nutter Center.
The Raiders (10-4) led by as many as 17 points in the second half. Even with some sloppy play in the final minutes, they never let the Phoenix (6-8), a team picked to finish third in the league, get closer than nine points.
“It means a lot, especially after going 0-2 against those guys last year,” said sophomore guard Reggie Arceneaux. “Might I say, Green Bay is a pretty good team. We all knew that. But it’s just one game. Now we move on to the next one, which is Milwaukee on Saturday.”
Arceneaux led the Raiders with 15 points and had a season-high eight assists. Miles Dixon had 11 points. Kendall Griffin scored eight. Nine Raiders scored, and the only player who played and didn’t score was the team’s leading scorer over the last three games, Jerran Young.
However, the MVP of the game, Donlon said, was sophomore forward Tavares Sledge, who had a season-high 13 points and added nine rebounds.
“It’s a conference game. It’s important,” Sledge said. “I thought I should bring a lot of energy.”
“Tavares was phenomenal,” Donlon said. “Nine rebounds in a game like that, key offensive rebounds late. Sometimes he went back up and scored. Sometimes he brought it out so we could work the clock. He’s finishing more plays.”
One brief sequence in the second minute of the second half involving Arceneaux and Sledge defined the game.
First Arceneaux stole the ball and went the other way for an uncontested layup, smiling as fans teased him by shouting, “Dunk it!” Seconds later, a steal by Matt Vest, who passed ahead as he was falling out of bounds, led to a slam by Sledge off a pass by Arceneaux.
The Raiders had 10 fast-break points. Those two baskets gave them a 39-24 lead and set the tone for the second half.
Green Bay led 4-0 early, but Wright State answered that with a 7-0 run that included two dunks by Vest and a 3-pointer by Arceneaux. The Raiders extended the lead to as many as 14 before Green Bay cut it to 33-24 at halftime on a bank-shot 3-pointer by Greg Mays at the buzzer.
“I’m really proud of our guys and their effort,” Donlon said. “We’re down 4-0, and they kept their composure. That’s not an easy thing. They played with great intensity and caused turnovers. We really caused havoc in the first half, and that led to some easy baskets. We played with much greater pace offensively than Green Bay could guard. That doesn’t mean the next time around we play that’ll be the case. But tonight that’s how we won the game.”