Wright State is hoping for more of the same Monday, both in terms of the result and atmosphere the Raiders enjoyed Thursday night.
Playing at a packed BB&T Arena in front a rowdy, season-high crowd of 4,987, the Raiders scored their biggest win of the Scott Nagy era with an 84-81 triumphof defending Horizon League champion Northern Kentucky.
Senior guard Grant Benzinger scored a season-high 31 points,while freshman center Loudon Love recorded his third consecutive double-double with 17 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
The victory moves WSU (13-5, 5-0 HL) into sole possession of first place and wraps a successful three-game road trip that saw WSU run its win streak to six in a row.
NKU (11-6, 4-1) lost for the first time in eight home games this season.
Freshman forward Everett Winchester added 10 points and six rebounds, junior guard Mark Hughes had 10 points to go along with a late steal and rebound and sophomore guard Cole Gentry overcame a late turnover that put NKU in position to tie by hitting a layup with 17 seconds to go and two free throws with four ticks remaining to seal the win.
The Raiders will have a chance to strengthen their hold on first place Monday afternoon when they get back in front of their own fans at the Nutter Center for a rare weekday afternoon game against Youngstown State.
Benzinger’s big night
Playing just a few miles from his hometown, Benzinger scored 11 of his points in the first 3 minutes and 41 seconds of the game to help the Raiders surge to an early 12-point lead.
He came up large late, too. After NKU had built its biggest lead at 62-57 with 10 minutes to go, Benzinger gave WSU the lead for good on a pair of free throws with 6:42 remaining as part of a stretch of 10 points in 3:37.
The 31 points were one shy of the career high he set last year at Georgia State.
“No assists, though,” he said. “That’s not good. I’ve got to share the ball.”
Benzinger finished 8 of 13 from the floor, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range, and 11 of 13 from the free throw line.
“As a player, I don’t really think about (the points),” he said. “It was kind of in the moment. There’s plays that needed to be made to win the game, and today I made them.”
Nagy said it’s rewarding seeing Benzinger’s work paying off.
“Grant puts the time in like very few I’ve ever coached,” he said. “He’s playing tremendous. He’s at the point where you better be guarding him from everywhere on the floor.
“Some of those shots for most players are terrible shots, and a lot of times it’s not the shot I’d recommend,” he continued. “I’m just saying as a coach, when a guy puts that kind of time in, I don’t say a lot to him.”
Justin Mitchell was not with the team Thursday night.
“He asked me for some personal time away from the club,” Nagy said, adding that he doesn’t know how much time the senior guard needs. “We’ll just have to see what’s going on.”
Mitchell, who was benched for a game earlier in the season and has seen his playing time reduced since sophomore guard Cole Gentry became eligible following his transfer from South Dakota State, made the request for time away a few days prior to Thursday’s game, Nagy said.
The 6-foot-9, 275-pound freshman big man is right handed, but he had the left one working Thursday night.
“I know I tend to go to my right shoulder a decent amount, but it’s usually on the block because I like the glass,” he said. “But whenever I can go left, I’ll use it on the glass and it keeps the defenders guessing.”
That’s what happened on one of Love’s biggest shots of the night. NKU had cut the deficit to 78-75 with 1:41 to go when Love answered with his left hand, converting a tough, falling shot to put the advantage back to five with 1:18 remaining.
“Fade away,” he said when asked about it. “I need to keep going toward the rim and make it more of a certainty than just fading away. But yeah, it was a great make.”
NKU came into the game ranked No. 1 in the HL, allowing 65.9 points per game.
WSU came in as the No. 2 defense, allowing 66.5.
But the 84 the Raiders scored equalled the most the Norse have allowed this season. WSU shot 55.8 percent from the floor, including 45.5 from 3-point range.
“We wanted to shut down (Dew) McDonald and (Lavone) Holland,” Benzinger said of NKU’s top two scorers, both of whom finished with 16 points. “I don’t think we did what we wanted to do, but the other guys on their team didn’t do as much as they usually do.”
The six-game winning streak is the Raiders’ longest since their run to the HL tournament championship game two years ago.
If they are able to beat YSU on Monday for a seventh consecutive win, it would be the longest since an 11-game run from Jan. 17 to Feb. 20, 2008.