Wright State coach Billy Donlon described the season as an emotional roller-coaster on Wednesday after a 70-68 double-overtime victory at Green Bay. The Raiders have had their ups and their downs, but all that matters is what direction they’re heading late in the season.
With a 64-49 victory at Milwaukee on Saturday, the Raiders have now won three games in a row. That follows a three-game losing streak that cast doubt on their early-season success.
Wright State hadn’t won at Milwaukee since 1998, a fact Donlon didn’t bring up with his team, maybe because it was so long ago the coach himself was still in college at UNC Wilmington.
With a dominant effort against a team it barely beat on Jan. 5, 53-51 at the Nutter Center, Wright State closed the door on a 14-game losing streak in Milwaukee. It also completed a season sweep of the Horizon League’s two Wisconsin teams, Green Bay and Milwaukee, for the first time ever.
“They were focused,” Donlon said. “We really attacked this trip with determination and a sense of purpose.”
The Raiders jumped out to a 13-4 lead, led 32-21 at halftime and never trailed in the game. The last-place Panthers (5-20, 1-10) got no closer than nine points in the second half.
“We got some good looks early and just did a lot of positive things,” Donlon said. “I’m really proud of the players for playing the way they did with the intensity they did. Both Milwaukee and Green Bay are physical opponents. To hold Green Bay to 20 points in the second half at their place was terrific defense. To follow that up by holding Milwaukee to 21 points in the first half, that was terrific defense.”
Milwaukee’s top scorers, guards Jordan Aaron and Paris Gulley, combined to score 17 points on 6-of-19 shooting. Together they average just over 28 points on the season.
“They have great size, and their guards are really good players,” Donlon said. “We had to use our speed. Top to bottom, we’re really athletic.”
Jerran Young and Cole Darling each scored 18 points for the Raiders. Reggie Arceneaux scored seven, and Kendall Griffin had six.
Tavares Sledge had five points and nine rebounds. Donlon described Sledge’s performance as outstanding. Donlon also credited guard Joe Bramanti with grabbing three key rebounds early.
The Raiders shot 6-of-12 from 3-point range, including 6-of-8 in the first half, and made 16-of-19 free throws. Wright State only shot four 3-pointers in the second half and missed them all.
“We threw it in and kicked it out in the first half,” Donlon said. “The staff did a good job of telling our guys, the ball has to be in the paint to win. Even though we were 6-of-8, I didn’t want to turn it into a second half where we shot 3s.”
The Raiders out-rebounded the Panthers 31-25. Wright State shot 47 percent from the floor, and Green Bay shot 40 percent. Wright State had 10 turnovers in the first half, but only four in the second.
Compared to Wright State’s victory at Green Bay on Wednesday, this was a breather, especially in a Horizon League that features close games every night.
The Raiders (17-8, 8-4) pulled into a tie for second place with Detroit, which lost 68-59 at Green Bay on Saturday. Wright State hosts first-place Valparaiso (19-6, 9-2) at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The Raiders lost 69-63 at Valparaiso on Jan. 19, though they led until the final two minutes.
“Valpo’s good,” Donlon said. “The game up there, we’re up one with 50 seconds to go, and they made plays. I don’t want to take anything away from their defense because their defense is sound, but offensively, they’re very good. It’s going to be a tough game, a tough battle, in front of our fans and a great crowd. We’ve got to defend our home court.”