FAIRBORN — It was a tale of two halves when second seeded Wright State took on no. 7 seed Milwaukee in the Horizon League tournament quarterfinal, Wednesday night at the Nutter Center. The Raiders were able to overcome a poor shooting first half with points in the paint and free throws to take the victory, 73-64.
The Raiders had a hard time getting shots to fall, even on uncontested looks. Kim Demmings, who was recently named as the Horizon League Player of the Year, came out and hit a three pointer for Wright State, but that would be the only offensive production for a while.
With 15:33 left in the first half, the Raiders had only hit 1 of 11 shots from the field, or nine percent. The Panthers (8-22) were an efficient 3-7 at the same point, including 2-3 from outside, and led 9-3.
“I think it was a gutty performance,” said Wright State coach Mike Bradbury. “We didn’t shoot it very well, and I credit Milwaukee for that. I thought they were really good defensively and they made it hard on us.”
The Raiders (24-8) turned it around with defense that facilitated easier looks. Even if they weren’t hitting all their shots, they were attempting more than Milwaukee, especially in the paint. Tay’ler Mingo, the defensive specialist for the Raiders, said that Bradbury challenged her to step it up for this game.
“Coach at the beginning of practice just told me, ‘if you’re the best player at the court today, then they have no chance at beating us. If you’re average, then they have a chance’ and I took that to heart,” said Mingo. “And I play defense. That’s what he wanted me to come here and do is playing defense, and that’s what I like to do for my team.”
At halftime, Wright State led 27-25. Demmings led all scorers with nine, but the Raiders were 11-of-45 from the field, 2-of-14 from three-point range. They were shooting only 24.4 percent from the court, but had 16 points in the paint. The second half was a different story. The Raiders were hitting 41.4 percent from the field and were 22-of-24 from the free-throw line.
The free throws were the difference in the game. Wright State finished with 29 total attempts compared to 19 for Milwaukee. Bradbury talked about how his team had confidence in getting to the line.
“We weren’t shooting it particularly well, and you need to find ways to score. We needed to do it either in transition or you got to get it on the free-throw line, and that’s something that we do. We shoot a lot more free throws than our opponents, so we were able to do that tonight and we needed to.”
The Panthers were able to get the game withing three points with just over 10 minutes to go in the game, but Wright State fended off the scoring run with more physical play in the paint.
Demmings talked about her team’s mindset to get to the basket.
“Always a Raider. We’re going to try to lay it in and go to the free-throw line, not settle for shots. I felt like we did that a little better in the second half and that was the game plan,” she said.
Demmings had a game-high 25 points in the contest. Mingo added 24 of her own as well as six rebounds. Ivory James had a double-double with 12 points and 10 boards. Angela Rodriguez had a team-high 17 for Milwaukee.
Wright State, who tied an all-time team record in wins on Wednesday with 24, will move on to face no. 3 seed Youngstown State. According to the Wright State website, that game will be held 6 p.m. Friday, March 14 in Green Bay, Wis.