Wright State’s first NCAA Tournament win ‘a lifetime moment’ for players

The Wright State Raiders, led by Tanner Holden, march off the court victorious Wednesday, March 16, 2022 after defeating Bryant in the First Four game. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

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The Wright State Raiders, led by Tanner Holden, march off the court victorious Wednesday, March 16, 2022 after defeating Bryant in the First Four game. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Wright State coach Scott Nagy found out how Super Bowl coaches feel with elongated halftimes tailored for TV, not for the teams.

While there was no pop group performing, the NCAA tournament has 20-minute halves instead of the usual 15. And Nagy said: “They started it about five minutes late, so it was more like 25.”

Not that he was complaining. Nagy was seething after the Raiders let a cozy lead dwindle to two at the break, and he and players desperately needed to regroup before going back into battle.

ExplorePHOTOS: Wright State tops Bryant for first NCAA tourney win

“I was not happy. I was not happy at all that we were only up two points. We should have been up 10,” he said.

“There were several plays we didn’t finish. We didn’t get back like we should have on defense. I was thankful we had a little more time there so I could get myself calmed down and I didn’t just go in and explode on the players. I rarely do that anyway. But I was fairly turned up tonight.”

Bryant scored the first bucket of the second half on an ally-oop dunk to tie it at 44-all, but the Raiders went on a 10-2 run on their way to a 93-82 victory Wednesday in the First Four at UD Arena.

Tanner Holden scored 37 points, one off his career high, making 11 of 15 field goals and 14 of 16 foul shots. He snagged 11 rebounds and also swished his only 3-point try (not his specialty).

He thoroughly outplayed the nation’s leading scorer, Peter Kiss, who hoisted 25 shots, making 11, on his way to 28 points, three above his average.

Though it was a battle of 16 seeds, that didn’t take the shine off the program’s first NCAA tourney win in its fourth try. During a brief delay for a power outage with 6:27 to go, Raider fans — about half of the 12,500 in attendance — took advantage of the lull in the action by uniting in a “Let’s Go Raiders” chant.

“It’s the first thing I said to the players, ‘(This) hasn’t happened in the Division-I era. This is the first one and it’s always going to be the first one,” Nagy said.

“It’s going to be something — where we did it, how we did it, all those things — it’s a lifetime moment for these guys. And it is for me, too.”

The Raiders (22-13) made 26 of 32 free throws, connecting on their first 15 before a miss. And they also had a 44-34 rebounding edge.

They grabbed their first double-digit lead at 67-57 with 12:40 to go and stretched the gap to 16 before it was over.

“At halftime, it felt like we were playing great, but we were only up two. It was definitely kind of a shocking thing,” Holden said. “You feel like you’re just on a high, but you’re only up one possession.

“I thought we did a great job coming out, getting a few stops and getting momentum swinging our way — because in a tournament like this, the magic of March, anyone can come out and get hot.”

Trey Calvin chipped in 21 points and four assists. And though he went only 6 of 19 from the field, Grant Basile finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.

The Raiders went 9 of 21 on 3′s, while the Northeast Conference champs (22-10) were 4 of 24.

“It’s hard to win a game like this when you shoot the ball like that,” Bulldogs coach Jared Grasso said. “They played well. It’s a well-coached team. And Calvin and Holden were terrific. Those guys played at a really high level.”

Bryant brought a hearty group of fans, though it was only about 10% of the crowd.

“I don’t think, since I’ve been here, that we’ve played in front of an atmosphere like that with that many people cheering for us,” said Nagy, who is in his sixth year. “It was a tremendous experience for all of us, but I know for our players, it’s something they’ll never forget.

“Obviously, we were fortunate to get to play in Dayton. And, at some point, it feels a little unfair. But that’s the way it worked out. I was thankful if we were going to be a 16 seed, we would get that chance. I know our fans had a great experience, too.”

The environment figures to be totally flipped when the Raiders face the South Region’s No. 1 seed, Arizona (31-3), at 7:27 p.m. Friday at Viejas Arena in San Diego.

The PAC-12 regular-season and tourney champs have won 15 of their last 16 games and are the No. 2 overall seed behind Gonzaga.

Participating teams are allotted 200 tickets. And unless some Wright State alums in that part of the country decide to attend, it likely will resemble a Wildcat home game.

Nagy has made four previous NCAA trips but has never faced a team seeded as high as 2, much less a top seed.

“I appreciate you reminding me,” he joked.

“I heard on TV the other day, even before we were going to play them, that they’re the second biggest team in the country. That’s obviously going to be a problem. The question is can we get shots around the basket? Can we rebound the ball? And can we guard them in the post?”

The players sound undaunted.

“Arizona is predicted to win in a lot of brackets, so it’ll definitely be a fun matchup for us,” Holden said.

“Offense will come and go. But if our defense is solid, we’ll definitely make it a game. I think we’re all confident. We’re going there to win.”

FRIDAY’S GAME

Wright State vs. Arizona, 7:27 p.m., truTV, 980

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