FAIRBORN — Wright State’s men’s basketball program matured quickly. It achieved success at a rate that most programs can only dream.
From reaching the Division II tournament within six years of getting off the ground, to winning a national championship in just its 13th year, success just seemed to come more quickly. That rapid progression continued when the program transitioned to Division I in 1987.
After a somewhat disappointing 15-13 season, the 1992-‘93 team was poised for success. Recruiting classes in the late ’80s and early ’90s yielded players like Bill Edwards, Mark Woods, Sean Hammonds and Mike Nahar – all of whom scored at least 1,000 points and still appear throughout today’s record book.
Woods, still the school’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was returning after a year away from the team. Jon Ramey, a sophomore guard at the time, felt Woods’ return was a real catalyst and inspired an air of confidence.
“He was a dynamic point guard and difference-maker,” Ramey said.
The first part of the season didn’t go as planned, and the Raiders fought injuries and inconsistent play.
“It got off to a rocky start,” remembers former coach Jim Brown. “We had a lot of players coming back, and one of them was Sean Hammonds. Early in the season he dislocated his knee cap and it was a crushing loss to us, because he was a three-year starter and we had lost him for the whole season.”
While the team featured depth and talent, there’s no question that its overall success hinged on senior Bill Edwards. Edwards, the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in Wright State history, was named the Mid-Continent Player of the Year that season after averaging 25 points and 9.7 rebounds.
“Bill Edwards was a phenomenal player. Really a guy who was a leader in how hard he worked and how he improved upon his game,” says Ramey.
Despite a somewhat uneven season, the Raiders entered the Mid-Continent tournament as the third seed after finishing 10-6 in conference play.
Cleveland State had dominated league play, finishing 15-1, and had defeated Wright State twice during the regular season, 99-91 and 91-85. They were led by Michigan transfer and honorable mention All-America Sam Mitchell. During a seven-week stretch in January and February Cleveland State reeled off 14 wins in a row.
“They were wire-to-wire regular season champs,” remembers Edwards. “They were definitely a hard match-up for us. Although we were right there with them, it was like, ‘are you ever going to get over the hump?’”
As it turned out, they wouldn’t have to.
After a 64-53 win in the quarterfinals, the Vikings were throttled in the semifinals by the University of Illinois-Chicago, 96-68. Meanwhile, the Raiders were taking care of business with wins over Western Illinois and Valparaiso, setting up the rubber match with UIC in the tournament finals. Each team had won on its home court in close games during the regular season.
In front of 9,247 fans and a national TV audience on ESPN, both teams came out of the locker room hot, with the Raiders shooting 68 percent from the field and the Flames 59 percent in the first half. Edwards led Wright State with 20 points, as they closed the half with a 49-44 edge.
The high-scoring Raiders – their 90.2 average ranked among the top five nationally – didn’t let up after the intermission. They extended the lead to 68-57 with 11 minutes to go, and held on to win 94-88. Wright State had qualified for its first NCAA men’s basketball tournament in just its sixth year as a Division I school.
Edwards set a tournament record with 38 points in the finals, and was named the MVP. He was joined on the all-tournament team by Nahar, who scored 25 points in the finals, and Woods.
Edwards had elevated his game when it counted most.
“When we got to the last game, he was a man. He had maybe his best game ever here at the university, and it was without question the most important game.” says Brown.
Ramey also believes the big stage brought out the best in Edwards. The remarkable achievement and the excitement it generated left an indelible mark on those that played.
“To have that championship game here at the Nutter Center and then to win it … it was the best experience of my life,” says Edwards.
Ramey echoed similar sentiments: “I have vivid memories of the aftermath, the fans storming the court and the enthusiasm the entire community had for the win.”
When the NCAA tournament brackets were announced on Selection Sunday, there was a mix of excitement and anxiety. The Raiders were named a 16 seed and would play Big 10 champ and number one overall seed Indiana at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis.
Edwards remembers the feeling well, “I went from the high of winning the Mid-Continent to the low of finding out we were going to Indianapolis to play number one seed Indiana.”
Ramey had a different take: “Being an Indiana kid, born and raised, it was really special for me to be able to go and be around my family and friends.”
The Raiders, like most 16 seeds, were overmatched from the start. The Hoosiers, led by all-timers Calbert Cheaney and Damon Bailey, led 45-29 at halftime.
With defeat inevitable, Brown remembers emptying the bench a little earlier than what coaches typically do.
“Three minutes to go we were down 20 points. Coach Underhill and I decided to put everybody in and give them the experience, and I think we got outscored 21-0. This is something your kids look forward to, why put them in for 10 seconds or 30 seconds?”
Edwards finished his career with 18 points, and Woods had 14.
Youth has a way of distorting one’s ability to put things into perspective. Despite a record-setting career, it took Edwards years to really appreciate the impact the 1992-‘93 team had on the program.
“You never realized the magnitude of it until 10 or 15 years down the line. You look back at it and say, ‘we were a part of history’.”
Wright State University is celebrating its 50 year anniversary as an independent institution. To mark the occasion, a series of stories on the history of Raider Men’s Basketball. Visit wsuraiders.com for more stories.