- By Jay Morrison Staff Writer
Wright State heads into the Horizon League tournament riding the momentum of the team’s biggest comeback of the season after rallying from 14 points to win 88-81 at UIC in Sunday’s regular-season finale.
The team’s largest comeback before snuffing the Flames was 11, accomplished twice in an 85-81 win at Georgia Tech on Dec. 22 and more recently in a 68-64 home triumph of Green Bay on Feb. 8.
Wright State (22-9 overall, 14-4 HL) could find itself facing the Phoenix again Saturday in its HL 5:30 p.m. tournament opener in Detroit.
Green Bay, seeded seventh, will play No. 10 Detroit Mercy on Friday night, with the winner advancing to play the second-seeded Raiders.
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Wright State swept both the Phoenix and Titans, but there should be an added jolt of confidence after Sunday’s impressive comeback that featured a lot of big plays from a lot of players.
Here are five takeaways from the win:
The Raiders looked so lost defensively in the first half that coach Scott Nagy did something he never does.
“Defensively it was about as bad as we could be, and we had to go to zone, which we never do,” Nagy said. “I figured if they’re going to stop 67 percent, we might as well try to stop them. We actually got a couple of stops.”
Nagy said the team doesn’t even practice zone defenses, but he wasn’t worried about throwing in the wrinkle on the fly.
“Everybody knows how to play a 2-3 zone,” he said. “I had to draw up a few of the rotations for them. But we never went back to it because we decided to guard in the second half.”
Freshman forward Everett Winchester has proved all season the stage isn’t too big for him, but he took his confidence to another level in the closing minutes Sunday.
With Wright State clinging to a one-point lead, Winchester took a pass from Grant Benzinger on the baseline and hit a shorter jumper for an 84-81 lead with the shot clock running out and 1:07 showing on the game clock.
On the next possession, Winchester flashed into the paint to receive a pass from Mark Hughes and hit another short jumper with two seconds on the shot clock for a five-point lead with 20 tickets left in the game. And UIC never recovered.
“I love big moments,” said Winchester, who finished with career highs in points (19) and rebounds (eight). “I feel like I thrive in big moments. But most importantly my teammates believed in me. They gave me the ball and I just shot it. Everybody on this team has faith in everyone else to make those kinds of shots.”
After Wright State had taken a 72-68 lead, UIC responded with a 7-0 run to go back ahead by three, and it looked as though the Flames might get a chance to build on it.
The Raiders had an inbounds play with three seconds left on the shot clock. It didn’t go according to plan, and freshman Jaylon Hall looked lost with the ball in his hands. With the entire bench yelling at him to shoot, Hall launched a game-tying 27-footer milliseconds before the shot clock expired.
“One of the other guys didn’t do what they were supposed to do and it totally confused him,” Nagy said. “We had the right play if everyone did what they were supposed to do, but they didn’t. Jaylon had no choice but to shoot it, and it went in.”
The officials spent a lot of time at the monitor reviewing the shot before counting it.
Mark Hughes scored all 11 of his points in the second half to spark the comeback.
It started with the first possession after halftime when Hughes drew contact on a drive and made the free throw for a three-point play. On the next possession he swished a 3-pointer, giving him six points in the first 49 seconds of the half.
It would be 16 minutes and 7 seconds before Hughes would make another shot, but it was a huge one as his 3-pointer with 3:04 to go broke a 79-79 tie and gave the Raiders the lead for good.
Loudon Love had game highs with 23 points and 15 rebounds and moved closer to a couple of school records. He moved past Bill Edwards (289) and Rodney Robinson (299) into second place with 301 rebounds this season and needs just five more to break Thad Burton’s school record of 305.
And Love’s 23 points give him 395, which are 37 shy of the freshman scoring record set by Edwards.
Benzinger hit four 3-pointers as part of his 21-point night, upping his season total to 82, which is tied with Andy Holderrman for the second most in school history. Cain Doliboa holds the record with 104.
Benzinger already owns the career record with 281, having long since shattered the previous mark of 197 shared by Holderman and Todd Brown.
By finishing 14-4 in league play, the Raiders set a single-season program record for conference wins. And at 22-9 overall, they moved to within one of the Division I program record for victories (the 2007-08 and 2012-13 teams won 23).