Billy Donlon looks back at the urgency his Wright State men’s basketball team played with while opening its Horizon League schedule on the road in early January.
He hopes his players have the same resolve as they finish the season away from home.
That starts with Thursday’s game at Youngstown State (10-19, 5-11 HL), a team the Raiders (17-12, 11-5 HL) beat 81-45 at the Nutter Center on Jan. 16. They then finish up Saturday against Cleveland State at Quicken Loans Arena.
Two wins this week, plus a Detroit win over Oakland on Friday, will secure the No. 2 seed in the league tournament March 5-8 in Detroit and a double bye into the semifinals.
“If we can play with the same kind of sense of urgency we had to start, we were 2-1 to start through those three games,” Donlon said. “We played with great urgency at Milwaukee (an overtime win), and to be fair, we played with great urgency at least for a half at Green Bay (in a loss), and certainly at Northern Kentucky for 40. It will be very clear our mentality with the kind of urgency we start with Thursday night.”
Donlon expects Thursday’s game at Youngstown State to play out more like the first half of the earlier matchup. The Penguins never led but drew within eight with four minutes to go before the Raiders picked up momentum for a 17-point cushion at halftime. Wright State outscored YSU 38-19 in the second half.
“We beat them pretty good here, but they are a better team than that,” senior forward JT Yoho said. “They beat Oakland, and we lost to Oakland twice, so that kind of shows in this league anyone can beat anyone. We can’t go in looking to beat them by 40 again, especially at their place. We’re going to go in like it’s another dogfight.”
Youngstown’s 3-point shooting and zone defense pose the biggest challenges for the Raiders.
The Penguins rank third in the league for 3-pointers made (231), and their 647 attempts this season ranks 55th nationally. Matt Donlan leads the league with a 45.5 percent shooting rate from 3-point range.
YSU also ranks third in the HL with 7.0 steals per game, a credit to the zone defense.
“The thing about both of those things is there is great momentum power,” Donlon said. “When people make 3-point shots, the energy you get from making them, versus the energy it drains from the other team, can really change the game. And then the zone, if you don’t score consistently, it can get into your mind. Both sides of those are huge factors. The thing we can control the best is defensively. We have to be really dialed in.”
Wright State has one of the best defenses in the league, allowing 66.3 points per game, which only trails Valparaiso (60.3). The Raiders also are second in the league in 3-point field goal defense (33.3 percent).
However, Donlon said the Raiders haven’t been playing their best defense lately.
“We have been a little slow in anticipation, so everything is reactionary, which isn’t good,” he said. “You have to anticipate and put the offense on its heels as opposed to being on our heels. We’ve committed some really silly fouls recently, being too physical on the ball or bodying up on post-ups, but they are all correctable. I think our guys want to correct them, and that’s more than half the battle.”