The Wright State men’s basketball team had made things difficult for the first eight teams that visited the Nutter Center this season, but Sunday night the Raiders made things tough on themselves.
Facing an Illinois-Chicago team that had lost five games in a row, Wright State got off to a lethargic, sloppy start and fell behind by as many as eight points. But the Raiders made up for their struggles at the free throw line and on defense, holding the Flames scoreless over the final 4 minutes and 43 seconds to stay undefeated at home with a 58-53 victory in front of a crowd of 3,008.
“That’s why I’m a defensive-minded guy and always will be,” WSU coach Billy Donlon said. “As long as I have the privilege of being here, we’re going to guard you first, second and third and worry about the rest of it as we move forward.”
The win was the Raiders’ sixth in their last seven games, raising their record to 11-8 overall and 3-1 in the Horizon League. UIC fell to 5-12, 0-3.
Senior AJ Pacher led WSU with 17 points and eight rebounds, while senior Jerran Young notched 13 points and senior Reggie Arceneaux added 10, including a huge 3-pointer with the Raiders trailing by four with 3:29 to go.
Arceneaux had been just 2-of-6 from long range before his big one sparked a 7-0 run to close the game.
“I’d been shooting the ball well all year, so I wasn’t getting frustrated with the shots I was missing,” he said. “I just stayed confident.”
The Raiders still trailed by one after the big shot, but Young and Cole Darling came up with steals on back-to-back UIC possessions and Pacher put WSU ahead for good with 2:42 to go.
“Reggie’s shot was huge,” Pacher said. “But you wouldn’t have noticed his 3 if we didn’t get stops. If they just kept scoring back and forth, his shot wouldn’t have been as big as it was. But we came down and got stops and it ended up being a huge shot.”
Arceneaux hit both ends of the one-and-one bonus with 14.4 remaining to push the lead to three, and Young tacked on the final margin with a pair of free throws with .8 left to cap the team’s 22-for-25 performance from the line.
The free throws were the only thing that kept the Raiders from falling in a huge hole early as they had a hard time sustaining the momentum from their big win at Valparaiso 34 hours earlier.
“We knew (the Flames) were going to take it to us,” Pacher said. “They were 0-2. We knew we were going to get their best punch. I just kept telling the guys that I was so proud of what everyone did Friday at Valpo. It was a huge win. But if you go on the road and win a huge game and come back and drop one at home, it doesn’t mean anything. We had to take care of business today.”
UIC senior guard Kelsey Barlow scored a game-high 19 points, and junior guard Marc Brown added 14, but the Flames only made one field goal over the final 8:44 to drop a sixth consecutive game.
Darling added six points and seven rebounds for the Raiders, who return to the Nutter Center at 7 Friday to face league-leading Wisconsin-Green Bay.