It would have been an agonizing defeat. It became a transformational victory.
When Detroit’s Ray McCallum Jr.’s last-second 3-pointer clanged off the side of the rim Monday at Calihan Hall, Wright State was no longer the little team that could, the upstart that some still doubted despite a 4-1 start in the league — but rather the a surefire contender in the Horizon League race. The Raiders, picked to finish last in the league, may kill the very idea of preseason polls with their performance this season.
Two days after leading Valparaiso the entire way only to lose 69-63 in the final minutes, the Raiders pulled out a 64-62 victory over the only team in the conference to make the NCAA tournament last season.
“We got taught a lesson by Valparaiso,” said Wright State guard Kendall Griffin, who led the team with 15 points. “They showed us how to finish a game, and we finished this one.”
Wright State (14-5, 5-1) regained a share of first place with Valparaiso (15-5, 5-1) and surpassed its win record from last season with 10 regular-season games remaining. Detroit, which was picked to finish second after winning the conference tournament last season, fell to fourth place at 12-8 and 4-3.
The Raiders never trailed the Titans. In fact, in 80 minutes against the teams picked to finish one-two in the Horizon League, they’ve led or been tied for about 36 minutes.
Still, Detroit didn’t let the Raiders get too far ahead. Wright State’s biggest lead in the second half was 10 points, and that didn’t last long.
Detroit trailed 53-48 when it went on a 5-0 run in about 30 seconds. Nick Minnerath hit a 3-pointer from the corner, and then Detroit got a steal and a monster slam by Doug Anderson, who led the Titans with 20 points on 9-of-18 shooting.
Suddenly, the game was tied at 53-53 with five minutes left.
“We worked hard, and then the ball just got away from us late a little bit,” Wright State’s Cole Darling said. “But we had belief this whole game we were going to come in and win. That’s what you’ve got to do, especially on the road. We really did believe in this game.”
Wright State called time-out after Anderson’s dunk.
“When you’re in a game on somebody else’s home floor in the last five or six minutes, everyone’s urgency has to lift, regardless of the score,” Donlon said. “I felt like Saturday we didn’t do that. I just told them, ‘Your urgency has gone down. We’re not playing to win. We’re just satisfied with getting a couple of buckets and them getting a couple of buckets, and you’re not going to win that way. Do you want to have the same feeling we had two nights ago and play great for 35 minutes and not do enough to win?’”
The Raiders responded to Donlon’s message with a 9-2 run in the next three minutes with Reggie Arceneaux scoring four and Darling scoring five. The last basket in the run, with just over two minutes to play, came after Arceneaux ran most of the time off the clock and then drew two defenders at the 3-point line before feeding Darling near the free-throw line. Darling drained the open jump shot as the shot clock expired.
Even a 62-55 lead with under two minutes to play wasn’t safe. Jerran Young missed the front end of a one-and-one with 54 seconds left, and the Titans cut the deficit to 64-62 with 43 seconds left on two free throws by Jason Calliste.
With under 10 seconds to play and the shot clock ticking down, Arceneaux drove the paint and missed a one-handed runner, but he was able to bat the rebound back to the basket. There was a scramble for the ball as precious seconds ticked away. Detroit got the ball and advanced it to halfcourt before calling time-out with two seconds left.
McCallum took the in-bounds pass and missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. He was falling out of bounds as he shot with Jerran Young draped all over him, and the Raiders celebrated their first win over Detroit in coach Billy Donlon’s three seasons.
Griffin said Donlon brought up the fact that the Raiders were 0-4 against the Titans in the last two seasons. They know what was at stake.
“It’s a big win for the program,” Griffin said.
The Raiders stay on the road for two more days. They play at Youngstown State at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
“It’s really important,” Darling said. “You’ve got to win the road games to win the league. This gives us a chance. Going 2-1 on this road trip would be huge. With other teams winning and losing, it really shuffles things up, so we have to come up with a win.”