DAYTON - It took reserve player Copper land going 6-6 from the field and a 22-27 effort in the second half from the foul line for Wright State to beat Valparaiso 68-56 in the first round of the Horizon League Championship.
Well it also took Wright State's stellar defense and Scott Grote's career high at Wright State of 19 points too, to get the Raiders into the quarterfinal game on Friday.
The way the Horizon League runs their tournament is a little different than most conferences. The number one seed and number two seed get a two game bye into the semi-final games held at the number one seed's venue. The other eight teams play at the 3-6 seed's venues with the four winners advancing to the quarterfinal games on Friday at the number one seed's venue.
This game announced just a little over two days ago had only 3006 people which is 2500 under Wright State's season average. It felt like an early season game or maybe a preseason exhibition game against a no-name team.
Wright State coach Brad Brownell worried that since his players were going to class today that they would not understand the possible finality of this game.
"I told them to do something different today. I wanted them to feel it was a tournament and not like a normal school day," said Brownell. "We have a lot of HL signs in the locker room to remind the team this is a tournament game and if you lose, you're out."
When asked what he did different today Grote proudly said he fixed breakfast, which is not a normal activity for him. With his 19 points he may be cooking breakfast a lot more on game days.
Wright State (19-12) jumped out to an 11-0 lead and at the 12:50 mark Wright State led 15-3.
Valpraiso was looking scared. After a couple of time outs and some field goals the Crusaders started to whittle Wright State's lead down and at the 8:37mark Urule Igbavboa hit a 3-pointer to get the lead down to 17-9. By halftime the Raiders led 29-23.
"We have a lot of new guys and this is their first post season. It wasn't a lack of energy, maybe we were a little tense," said Valpo's Jake Diebler about his team's slow start.
In the second half Valparaiso (9-22) kept chipping away and finally got the lead down to one point with 16:23 left when Diebler hit a 3-pointer to make it 34-33.
After a time out, Wright State went on a 14-0 run over the next six minutes to go up 46-33.
The Crusaders went on a little mini-run to cut the lead to five points with 8:33 left. After that point, Wright State went 13-15 from the foul line and put the game away.
"We made free throws late but we took care of business," said Brownell. "I like the way our team is playing and hopefully we can keep the season going for a few more games."
Valparaiso's coach Homer Drew was not panicked when the Raiders jumped out ahead by 12 points. After all they were down 12 points and last year in the Nutter Center and fought back to win a squeaker.
"They are very physical. We weren't concerned, I had faith we could come back and then we went on a little run of our own. Then they went on that 14-0 run and that really hurt us, said Drew. "We didn't play our best basketball and a lot had to do with Wright State's defense. We didn't execute or make shots when we had to."
For Valpo Michael Rogers and Diebler each score 14 points and De'Andre Haskins scored 13 points.
-Wright State leads the all-time series 8-5.
- "We have played more closely to our maximum potential than any other team," said Brownell. When you of it in those terms, Brownell is right about that. The Raiders are not a great team, but they play consistently closer to their best of any team in the Horizon League.
-Wright State plays Milwaukee on Friday at 6 p.m. at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
-Cleveland State plays UIC on Friday at 8 p.m. at Hinkle Fieldhouse.