By HAL McCOY
Wright State University’s basketball team moved into the finals of the Horizon League tournament Monday night, but the Raiders had to take a deep breath and compose themselves early in the second half.
The Raiders had a 20-point lead over Green Bay with 17 1/2 minutes left in the game.
A runaway? A rout?
Not so fast, bunky.
As quickly as one can say turnaround, the Phoenix lived up to their nickname and rose from the ashes, cutting Wright State’s lead to one point with a 22-3 run, slicing the lead to one point.
The Raiders, though, quickly resuscitated themselves and pulled it out, 66-54, in Detroit’s Little Caesar’s Arena.
The Raiders had a run of their own in the first half when the score was 15-15. They went on a 17-5 spree to take a 33-20 halftime lead.
And they quickly made it 40-20 in the first 3 1/2 minutes of the second half. Next thing they knew, it was 43-42.
But freshman Malachi Smith buried a three, Parker Ernsthausen clicked on a three and Loudon Love snagged an offensive rebound and banked it home to push the Raiders back to a 51-43 lead.
Green Bay scrambled back to within four, 54-50, but Alan Vest scored underneath, was fouled, and converted a free throw with 5:23 left and the Raiders never looked back.
Offensively, the Raiders were sketchy, forcing them to win the game defensively and on the backboards.
Green Bay averages 80 points a game and the Raiders held the Phoenix to 54. Of special note was the nose-to-nose defense by Mark Hughes and Malachi Smith on Green Bay star Sandy Cohen III. They combined to hold him to 13 points.
And Bill Wampler, who led the Raiders with 18 points (four threes in the first half) spent more time on the floor than upright, taking several charges. One of them knocked Cohen out of the game when he tried to dunk and ran over Wampler, Cohen’s fifth foul late in the game.
And for most of the game, Green Bay was one-and-done on offense, one shot at a time as the Raiders dominated the backboards. The leader, as always, was Man Mountain Loudon Love with 12 rebounds. With 10 points, Love registered his 12th double-double this season.
Wright State, 21-12, plays Tuesday night in the finals, seeking a second straight Horizon League championship and a second straight trip to the NCAA tournament.