Four of Wright State coach Billy Donlon’s biggest fans lined up for a photo before Saturday’s Horizon League tournament semifinal against Detroit.
AJ Pacher’s mom and sister, Alyce and Sarah, Cole Darling’s mom Deanna and Pat Koogler, a fixture in the stands at home and away games with her husband Tom, wore sweatshirts with a large mugshot of Donlon on the front. On the back, the shirts read, “#1 Coach.”
These aren’t the type of shirts you can buy at the Wright State bookstore or find on eBay, but they may soon become a collector’s item.
The third-year coach Donlon has guided the team to the brink of the NCAA tournament. The No. 3 seed Raiders (21-11) advanced to Tuesday’s 9 p.m. championship game at Valparaiso against the top-seeded Crusaders (26-7) with a 56-54 victory over the Titans on Saturday.
Donlon showed again why he won the Horizon League Coach of the Year this season, making sure the Raiders weren’t satisfied with a 20-win season and a semifinal appearance.
After Saturday’s victory, Donlon was asked when he last spoke to his team about being picked to finish last and said, “We talked about it (Saturday) morning for the first time in a long time. I thought we were satisfied with beating Youngstown (on Friday).. When we woke up this morning and went to the gym to do a walk-through for the game, I just felt some guys from last year were satisfied. We got 20 wins. We finished third. We won a tournament game. I just told them, ‘Demand more of yourself.’”
Donlon’s message translated into a buzzer-beating jump shot by Miles Dixon on Saturday. It was a chaotic scene at the Athletics-Recreation Center, but only crazy enough to rank third in SportsCenter’s top-10 plays Saturday night.
A half-court buzzer-beater by Alabama took the spot, and Valparaiso took second place with a 3-pointer by Ryan Broekhoff, who was falling backward as he launched the shot that beat Green Bay 70-69. Donlon and assistant coach Scott Woods stayed to watch the game.
“When it left his hands, I thought it was good,” Donlon said. “It’s a tough thing for Green Bay and certainly a great thing for Valpo.”
If Broekhoff had missed, the Raiders would have returned to Fairborn on Sunday to prepare to host Green Bay on Tuesday. Instead, they shot some free throws Sunday morning and had a quick walk-though practice and then traveled 50 miles to Donlon’s hometown of Chicago to spend the night.
“We came here to get away,” Donlon said. “I didn’t want them sitting in the hotel in Valparaiso watching SportsCenter all day. I wanted them to get out, get away from it. We’ll head back (Monday) and do our normal day.”
Wright State at Valparasio, 9 p.m., 100.3, ESPN