- By Rick Braun Contributing Writer
Basketball games generally are won down the stretch, but Wright State’s Raiders believe they lost a close game in the first half Saturday night.
A flat opening 20 minutes left the Raiders trailing, and even though they fought back to briefly take the lead in the second half, they couldn’t make the plays down the stretch in a 66-61 loss to Milwaukee.
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The loss — Wright State’s first in the Horizon League — snapped an eight-game Raiders’ winning streak and sent them to 15-6 overall and 7-1 in league play.
Starting guards Grant Benzinger, Mark Hughes and Cole Gentry never got going, combining for 5-of-22 shooting.
“They did a nice job on them,” Raiders coach Scott Nagy said of Milwaukee’s defensive effort on the guards.
Still, Nagy had more problems with what his team did at the other end of the floor in the first half.
“Offense wasn’t our problem, defense was our problem,” Nagy said. “In the first half we gave up 60 percent (shooting), and that gave them a lot of confidence.
“So then it was a fight. Had we shown up in the first half and been better, we could have maybe taken some of that confidence away from them, maybe it would have been a different story. But we weren’t any good in the first half. That was the problem.”
The Raiders led 10-7 after 4 ½ minutes before things began to come apart.
Brock Stull (17 points, 11 rebounds) made a pair of 3-pointers as Milwaukee (10-12, 3-6) tallied four long balls in a 16-7 run for a 23-17 lead. Milwaukee led by as much as 37-26 before taking a 37-30 edge to the break.
The Panthers pushed it to 42-30 with the first five points of the second half before the Raiders rallied.
Benzinger and Gentry nailed 3-pointers in a 12-2 run that cut the margin to 44-42. A 3-point play by Everett Winchester cut the margin to a single point at 46-45. The Raiders finally grabbed the lead at 52-51 on Loudon Love’s rebound basket with 10:15 left.
The Raiders managed to take the lead four times in the second half, but never by more than a point, the last time at 59-58 on Winchester’s 3-point play off an offensive rebound with 4:21 left. Milwaukee retook the lead for good when Bryce Nze got inside and tipped in a Stull miss with 4:05 left.
“I think we missed a boxout,” said Love, who led the Raiders with 16 points. “With all those ball screens it’s tough to match up on the boxout, and he got us there.”
From there, Milwaukee kept the clamps on the Raiders guard-oriented attack. Benzinger finished with six points on 2-of-10 shooting, Gentry ended with five points on 2-of-9 shooting and Hughes had five on 1-of-3.
“It’s hard when you have your starting guards having the kind of nights they did,” Nagy said. “We were still in the game, but not one of the three played very well.”
Love scored off a rebound to keep the Raiders within 62-61 with 3:18 left, but the Raiders wouldn’t score again.
After Stull hit a pull-up jumper to make it 64-61 with 2:48 left, the Raiders experienced nothing but frustration.
The Raiders missed three shots, but Love was fouled after rebounding the third miss. With 1:08 left and a chance to cut it to one, he missed both free throws.
A shot-clock violation gave the Raiders another chance, but Hughes’ driving attempt was snuffed by center Brett Prahl.
Nze ended up with the ball and was fouled with 25 seconds left. He missed the front end of the bonus, giving the Raiders one last chance. Gentry dribbled around the perimeter looking for an open three that never materialized. His desperation heave from the right wing never came close, and Stull sealed the game with two free throws with 2.2 seconds left.
“Tonight they were the tougher team and the better team,” Benzinger said.