Raiders improve to 3-0 for first time in ten years heading into Utah Thanksgiving Tournament.
FAIRBORN — Winning solves problems, and though Wright State head coach Billy Donlon said the Raiders have plenty of problems to fix, winning is helping to solve some of the Raiders’ early-season inefficiencies.
Wright State won its first home game of the 2012-2013 season last night in a 56-44 win over North Carolina A&T (1-2) in front of 3,726 fans at the Nutter Center, capitalizing on 17 turnovers and poor shooting by the Aggies. The Raiders improved to 3-0 with the win, which is Wright State’s first 3-0 start since the 2002-2003 season.
“I feel good about our record,” Donlon said after the game. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do. The upside is… we started on the ground floor. We’re on the ground floor, and… our team’s ceiling is very high. I’ve coached teams in the past where you’re getting everything out of them and you’re winning these kinds of games by four points… or maybe you’re losing them.”
The strong start has given Wright State confidence heading into the Utah Thanksgiving Tournament next week in Salt Lake City. The Raiders will play Central Michigan next Wednesday, Idaho State next Friday, and Utah next Saturday in the tournament.
“I like where our team can go, I like our record, but we have a long way to go and we’ve got to get better,” Donlon said. “Utah will be a big trip for us, because it took us two weeks to play three games, and in a matter of four days, we’re going to play three more.”
Wright State junior guard Miles Dixon said the Raiders have gained much confidence through their first three games.
“I like the way we’re playing,” Dixon said. “We plan on going into Utah and probably winning the tournament. We have a lot of confidence as team playing together on offense and defense.”
Wright State’s hot start stands in stark contrast to last season, when the Raiders dropped three of their first five games, including losses to Ohio State and Florida.
“I think last year, we played a couple of big time teams right out of the gate,” sophomore guard Kendall Griffin said. “Sometimes when you do that, you get down on yourself, and you’re wondering if you can even compete. And this year we’ve started out with a little less competition, and we’ve proven ourselves and got a lot of confidence going into the rest of the season.”
Dixon, who was Wright State’s second-leading scorer with 14 points against A&T, said Wright State won’t be intimidated by a Pac-12 team in Utah next week.
“We’re 3-0; we’re undefeated,” Dixon said. “Our confidence is supposed to be high like that. We’re going to play every team equally. A Pac-12 team is a pretty big team, but we’re going to take it a game at a time. Central Michigan is our next team to beat.”
The Raiders have yet to play a game with their players at full strength, and have been hampered especially in the post. Freshman forward Jacoby Roddy has yet to see the court this season as he’s working to return from knee surgery that occurred last summer. Junior forward Cole Darling, who scored 18 points in Wright State’s season-opening 80-70 win Idaho, sat out against North Carolina A&T due to an injury sustained in a 56-44 win at Eastern Illinois last Tuesday. Sophomore guard Reggie Arceneaux, who starts at point guard, played only 17 minutes against A&T due to early foul trouble.
“This team’s faced some adversity already in a young season, and found a way to get the result everybody would like,” Donlon said.
Wright State’s win over North Carolina A&T came in large part due to its defensive effort. The Aggies turned the ball over nine times in the first half, and Wright State capitalized, taking a 29-20 halftime lead. North Carolina A&T shot 19-for-67 (28.3%) from the field in the game compared to Wright State’s 27-for-65 (41.5%).
“We’ve won in about three different ways,” Donlon said. “We won playing a high-powered offensive game out in Idaho, we won a kind of a combination between offense and defense at Eastern Illinois, and tonight we strictly won because of our defense.”
Lamont Middleton, who entered the game as A&T’s leading scorer with 18 point per game, scored just six points in the game. Donlon credited sophomore guard Kendall Griffin for containing Middleton.
“Lamont Middleton would score a lot of points in our league,” Donlon said. “Kendall did a very good job on him. The key is, Middleton took five shots tonight, and he normally takes 12 to 14. That’s smothering defense, and I’m really proud of Kendall for that.”
Griffin credited his teammates for helping him contain Middleton.
“We talked about, in the scouting, how it wasn’t just one guy guarding him; it was team defense,” Griffin said. “My job was to frustrate him off the ball, then once he caught it I was on him. What you guys don’t really see is the intricacies of the game. There were two or three guys behind me helping stop him. It looks like I did all the work, but really, I didn’t.”
Freshman forward J.T. Yoho led Wright State with 15 points against A&T. Yoho has been an early season surprise for the Raiders, as he leads the team in scoring with 15.3 points per game.
“I struggled at the beginning of practice getting used to practice,” Yoho said. “I got injured over the summer, so I got kind of behind there. To be honest, I’m even a bit shocked at how I’m playing, but my teammates are doing a great job of finding me. I want to thank them for that. That’s what’s leading to my great play.”
Donlon said Yoho is one of the positives Wright State has to build on through the rest of the season.
“We’ve got a lot of positives,” Donlon said, “but we’ve got a lot of things to get better at.”
And maybe by winning, Wright State will do just that.