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Raiders off to best start in 24 years

With expectations for Wright State now soaring so high and so fast, coach Billy Donlon finds himself tempering them somewhat.

Donlon didn’t do a cartwheel on the way to the postgame interview Wednesday after his Raiders improved to 3-0 in the Horizon League. He calmly sat, took a sip from a bottle of water as usual and started to explain why Wright State hasn’t accomplished much yet, even though an impressive 69-53 victory over Cleveland State at the Nutter Center seemed to say otherwise.

“We did what we were supposed to do,” Donlon said. “We had three home games. We won them. That’s it. I’m glad we won them because you can get beat, but we did our job. It’s nothing more than that. It’s nothing less than that.”

The Raiders did their job about as well as they have all season, building a 35-17 halftime lead and never letting the Vikings get closer than nine points in the second half. Jerran Young led the Raiders with 23 points, and Kendall Griffin had a season-high 12.

Cole Darling had eight points and seven rebounds. Matt Vest had eight points and six assists.

Wright State (12-4) topped the 1992-93 team that started 11-5 and pulled even with the 1989-90 team that also started 12-4 and won three more on top of that. The Raiders can match last year’s win total by beating Loyola on Friday in Chicago.

For one night at least, the Raiders find themselves alone in first place in the Horizon League. Detroit (2-0) is a half game back. Every other team has at least one loss. With four road games coming up, Wright State knew it had to win the first three at home.

“That was our goal, starting out with three home games,” Griffin said. “To come out and do it, that’s big. We’ve got some challenging road games coming up, so we’ve got to stay focused.”

This was also Wright State’s first victory over Cleveland State in Donlon’s three seasons. The Vikings had defeated the Raiders six times in a row.

This time, Cleveland State (9-8, 1-2) shot 26 percent in the first half. It had 10 points in the first 13 minutes.

Wright State, meanwhile, had one of its best halves of the season, making 7-of-13 3-pointers. Young’s coast-to-coast drive for a 3-point play in the final seconds put the exclamation point on the half.

Donlon expects it to be a much closer game when Wright State plays at Cleveland State on Feb. 20. The Vikings played this game two nights after beating Illinois-Chicago 60-50 at home.

“When they play at home on Monday and then travel and play on the road, you’re not going to get their best punch,” Donlon said. “I told our kids that before and after the game. We will get their best punch in Cleveland. I mean that respectfully. That’s not a knock.”

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