VALPARAISO | Valparaiso had enough energy to recover from one daunting deficit Friday night, but couldn’t muster up the ability to do it again against the vaunted Wright State defense.
The Crusaders trimmed a 17-point, first-half deficit down to one and had a chance at the lead midway through the second half before the Raiders embarked on a 14-3 run to pull ahead and close out a 62-45 victory at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
The win carried added significance for the Raiders after they fell to Valparaiso at the ARC last March in the 2013 Horizon League title game.
“We had to come mentally prepared because this was the last chance for our seniors to get a win here,” Wright State guard Miles Dixon said. “We’ve never won here before and we felt like this was a redemption game.”
The Raiders (10-8, 2-1) entered the game without three key contributors and proceeded to run up a 37-20 lead on the Crusaders with a combination of timely shooting and effective defense. Wright State entered the game allowing a Horizon League-best 62.5 points per game and it showed Friday night as the Crusaders went nearly nine and a half minutes with just one field goal in the first half.
“I thought it was a great growing up process for our freshmen,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said. “We missed a lot of shots in the paint and there was some anxiety and nerves out there for us.”
Part of that may have been due to the fact that game was nationally-televised on ESPNU as well as the fact that the Raiders hounded Valparaiso at every turn. The Crusaders committed nine turnovers in the first half and finished with 14 total.
“It was the first time being on an ESPN network for a lot of our guys and I’m sure they were texting and tweeting about it to their friends,” Drew said. “Wright State plays excellent defense and they sped us up a little bit.”
The Crusaders opened the second half on a 14-2 run, but couldn’t take the lead when Alec Peters missed a leaner at the basket. The Raiders recovered and held Valparaiso scoreless over the next seven and a half minutes while taking control of the game on the offensive side of the floor.
“We got pretty complacent only being down one point,” Peters said. “We thought the momentum would keep carrying us. If we’re in this situation again, we’re going to get it right,”
The loss drops the Crusaders to 9-9 this season, the latest in Bryce Drew’s three-year career that the team has been at .500. Valparaiso also fell to 1-2 in the Horizon League, the first time the team has had a losing conference record after three games since the 2009-10 season.
“I told our guys to expect everybody’s best,” Drew said. “At Oakland we had two guys go 9-for-14 against us and then they went 0-for-14 the next game. Tonight we had a team only have four turnovers against us. We’re going to get everyone’s best.”