Wright State received an unexpected boost from Grant Benzinger and showed some moxie down the stretch, but Loyola (Ill.) withstood a furious rally to pull out an 84-80 victory Friday night.
Benzinger scored a team-high 16 points before fouling out with 1:11 to go. He played 31 minutes despite missing almost the entire preseason because of hernia surgery, rejoining the team at a short practice Thursday.
The senior wing made 6-of-12 shots, including 4-of-7 three-pointers.
Coach Scott Nagy said Benzinger had to stay on the floor so much because of the Raiders’ foul trouble. Post players Louden Love and Parker Ernsthausen both picked up their fourth fouls early in the second half, and Mark Hughes also finished with four.
“That certainly wasn’t our plan to play him that many minutes. … He’s our heart. We’ve missed him. To not have him in practice really hurt us,” Nagy said.
The Ramblers led by as many as 12 in the second half and by nine with 1:11 to go, but the Raiders stormed back, cutting it to 82-80 with 26 second to go with the help of a pair of 3-pointers by junior wing Mark Hughes.
Loyola’s Donte Ingram, who had a game-high 21 points, made one of two foul shots with 21.8 seconds left for a three-point lead, giving the Raiders a chance to tie.
But the Ramblers forced a turnover to hang on. They made 18 of 24 shots in the first half (75 percent) and connected on 20 of their first 27 attempts.
They finished 28 of 51 (54.9 percent).
“Honestly, I blame myself,” Nagy said of the lapses on defense. “I’ve not done a good enough job with these guys. We’re not even close to being good enough defensively to win a championship right now. But we’re going to get there.
“The thing I know about our guys is they deeply care. I was wild tonight. I was out of control. But I told them, ‘I need you to understand that the reason I was so emotional is that I believe so much in you.’ I fought tonight, and I wanted them to fight. We had a lot of timeouts tonight that were tough timeouts.”
Redshirt freshman post Everett Winchester and Hughes had 15 points apiece. Senior point guard Justin Mitchell had 13 points, eight rebounds, four assists and five steals.
“I’m really proud of Everett. He didn’t play scared at all for a freshman. I thought that was great,” Nagy said.
But along with foul trouble, the Raiders were hampered by careless ball-handling, finishing with 20 turnovers.
The Ramblers went 18-14 last year and have two players named preseason first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference. They were picked to finish third in the MVC behind Missouri State an dNorthern Iowa.
The Raiders play at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Miami, which is coming off a 55-54 win at Fordham on Friday.
Wright State at Miami, 7 p.m., 980, 106.5