The Wright State men’s basketball team overcame a 10-point deficit with two minutes remaining Sunday afternoon to stun host Oakland.
Senior forward AJ Pacher’s bucket in the paint with 1.6 seconds left proved to be the game-winner as the Raiders capped a furious stretch that saw them score on their final nine possessions to pull out an improbable 72-71 victory at the Athletics Center O’rena.
“That’s the first game-winner I’ve ever hit in college,” Pacher said. “It’s the first one since high school on senior night. It feels so good, but it’s not just my shot. We just had so many big-time stops and shots to lead up to that. I was just the one who happened to put it in at the end.”
Pacher finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds for his first career double-double, while senior forward Cole Darling scored a season-high 21 points for WSU (15-13 overall, 7-6 Horizon League). The Raiders trailed by as many as 13 before posting a key win in its quest for a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
“That’s a big win for our program,” Raiders coach Billy Donlon said. “There’s really not a whole lot you can do as a coach other than hope they gain that kind of experience, and what a way to gain that experience with that kind of comeback.”
Darling started the rally with a 3-pointer and then capped it with a pair of free throws that put the Raiders up 70-69 with 21 seconds left. But Oakland (10-18, 5-8) went back in front on a pair of free throws by Duke Mondy with 13 ticks remaining.
When Grizzlies coach Greg Kampe called timeout to set his defense, Donlon grabbed the clipboard and drew up a play the Raiders had never seen.
“Coaches call it drawing them up in the sand,” Donlon said. “We do it in practice all the time. We’ll sit at half court and we’ll play five-on-five and we’ll just draw them up in the sand, because as the year goes on guys know all your stuff. The guys did a good job of executing and believing.”
Reggie Arceneaux pushed the ball up the court and passed it to JT Yoho, who fed Pacher in the post. Pacher’s short jumper over Joey Asbury bounced on the rim three times before falling through the net.
“Coach D has a great ability to call plays up out of a timeout,” Darling said. “He trusts us to execute it, and we executed that play perfectly. We got the ball right where we wanted it. Pacher’s been a beast all year down low. We just went at them, and he put it in.”
It was a disappointing ending for the Grizzlies, who committed turnovers on four of their final eight possessions and allowed Darling, Yoho and Arceneaux to make three 3-pointers in a span of 92 seconds to spark the rally.
“We wanted to switch off the screens and if they slipped in for two, great, because we’re up 10 and they need five possessions to catch us if they only make twos,” Kampe said. “And what happens? Three straight times they run a guy underneath and screen him to a shot and we don’t switch.
“We had a 10-point lead with two minutes to go,” Kampe added. “We wouldn’t even be having this conversation had we not completely self-destructed. Billy’s a great coach and they’re a great team, but they should’ve lost the game.”
Further frustrating the Grizzlies was the defensive job Matt Vest did on Oakland’s leading scorer Travis Bader, who recently broke the NCAA record for most 3-pointers made in a career. Vest held Bader to nine points — all in the first half — on 1-of-10 shooting, including 0-of-3 from beyond the arc.
Vest also contributed offensively with eight points, while Jerran Young scored 11 to go along with seven rebounds.
Mondy led Oakland with 20 points, while University of Dayton transfer Ralph Hill collected a career-high 15.
The Raiders, who sit 1 1/2 games back of Valparaiso for third place and a coveted first-round tournament bye, return to action with a home game against Detroit at 10 p.m. Friday.