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Raiders get second shot at first-place Valpo

Wright State coach Billy Donlon’s players sang “Happy Birthday” to him in the wee hours of Sunday morning after the team flew home from Milwaukee.

Donlon turned 36 on Sunday, which means he’s now closer to 40 than he is to 30. On the bright side, there’s nothing a coach wants more on his birthday than a win, and the Raiders won three times last week.

Just nine days ago, Donlon was answering questions about his team’s loss of confidence after a three-game losing streak. Now Wright State has put itself into position to fight for the Horizon League’s regular-season title or at least a high seed in the tournament.

A win against Valparaiso at 7 tonight at the Nutter Center would pull the Raiders (17-8, 8-4) to within a half game of the first-place Crusaders (19-6, 9-2), who rallied in the final minutes to beat Wright State 69-63 on Jan. 19.

“We had a rough stretch there,” junior forward Cole Darling said, “but I feel like we had a good week of practice going into the road trip. We did get our confidence back. Things started to flow pretty well. We just have to keep our confidence up and fight through these games.”

Wright State hadn’t beaten Milwaukee since 1998, and it had never won at Green Bay and Milwaukee in a three-day span or swept the season series from both teams. It accomplished all that with a 70-68 double-overtime victory at Green Bay on Thursday and a 64-49 win at Milwaukee on Saturday.

Donlon didn’t bring up those facts until after Saturday’s win, Darling said. The coach would rather his players not think about that history, and the Raiders played as if the history didn’t matter. They also made up for the 1-2 homestand that included back-to-back losses to Illinois-Chicago and Detroit.

“I think we owed it to our fans and the Wright State community to go to Wisconsin and play the way we’re capable of playing and be the team we’ve been 95 percent of the year,” Donlon said. “I thought the guys really responded.”

The star of the two games in Wisconsin was junior forward Jerran Young. After scoring 11 points in last Monday’s win against Loyola at the Nutter Center, he had 11 points at Green Bay and 18 against Milwaukee.

Young was named Horizon League Co-Newcomer of the Week on Monday.

“When he first got here, all he ever wanted to do was go as fast as humanly possible all the time,” Donlon said. “That’s not always a good thing. The game has slowed down for him some.”

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