There were a lot of emotions in Indianapolis on Tuesday night as Wright State got over the hump and clinched its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2018 with a 72-71 win over Northern Kentucky.
“Sometimes God gives you want you want and doesn’t give you what you want, but he gives you what you need,” Wright State head coach Scott Nagy said.
It’s cliche to say a team overcame adversity, but that’s really what the Raiders did.
During the past two seasons, they were heavy favorites in the league, combining for a 31-7 record. They didn’t account for a single conference tournament win. This season, they opened 2-7, falling 82 spots in KenPom while they lost six of seven.
They bounced back, and look at them now. They’re going dancing.
On Tuesday, Northern Kentucky led for all but 1:19 of the first half, holding a seven-point lead at the break. The second half was a whole different ballgame, just ask Tanner Holden, someone who had been in the championship game before and had to deal with adversity heading into the game.
Delmas Conley, Holden’s 79-year-old grandfather, lost his tough battle to pancreatic cancer Tuesday morning. Conley was a winner himself. He won 561 races on the stock car driving circuits. Pregame, Holden wore his racing shirt to honor him. Postgame, when they cut down the nets and overcame a 16-point deficit, he did the same.
“It still hasn’t hit me yet,” Holden said. “Found my mom just balling her eyes out. That kinda hit home for me because my paw paw was at every game, not just for me but my whole family.”
Now the next destination, who knows. The Raiders don’t have as good of a resume as in the past, and there’s somewhere right down the street that could be a perfect location. UD Arena.
Not many teams would be happy to head to Dayton for the First Four, but Wright State is 12 miles away, and after falling short so many times, their fans deserve a tourney game close to home.