DAYTON, Ohio — Wright State’s campus is located just 12 miles from University of Dayton Arena, but the Raiders hadn’t played a game there since 1997.
Their return won’t soon be forgotten.
Playing in front of a Wright State-heavy crowd Wednesday night in the First Four, the Raiders beat Bryant 93-82 to record the first NCAA tournament win in team history. Guard Tanner Holden scored 37 points, one shy of a career high, to outplay the nation’s leading scoring, Peter Kiss, in a matchup of No. 16 seeds.
Wright State advanced to the tournament’s first round, where he will face No. 1 seed Arizona on Friday in San Diego.
The Raiders were making their second appearance in the past four NCAA tournaments and fourth overall, but the previous three ended with first-round defeats.
“It’s the first thing I said to the players: It’s not happened in the Division I era,” Wright State coach Scott Nagy said. “This is the first one and will always be the first one. Where we did it, how we did it, all those things, it’s a lifetime moment for these guys.”
Holden, a 6-foot-6 junior from Wheelersburg, Ohio, hit 11 of 15 field goal attempts and went 14-of-16 at the free throw line while also grabbing 11 rebounds in 39 minutes. He came in as Wright State’s leading scorer (19.8 points per game) but hadn’t reached 30 points since a 38-point effort on Jan. 22 against Illinois-Chicago. Trey Calvin added 21 points for Wright State, while Grant Basile overcame a poor shooting performance (6-of-19) to score 14.
“It’s awesome to be able to do this in your backyard and experience it with all the fans who come to the games,” Holden said. “It was just a great game tonight.”
Nagy, in his sixth season at Wright State, said the team hadn’t played in an environment like Wednesday’s. Wright State had logged 21 games at University of Dayton Arena, winning 14, but hadn’t recorded a victory there since beating Dayton in January 1990.
“It was a tremendous experience of all of us, but I know for our players something they’ll never forget,” Nagy said. “Obviously, we were fortunate to get to play in Dayton. At some point, it feels a little unfair, but it’s the way it worked out. I was thankful that if we were going to be a 16-seed, we would get that luck.”
Nagy credited guard Tim Finke for his defense against Kiss, a senior who led Bryant with 28 points but needed 25 shots. Kiss came in with 10 games of 30 points or more this season, including 34 against Wagner in the Northeast Conference championship game.
“Just extremely proud of everybody on this team,” said Kiss, a Rutgers transfer who became emotional when talking about Bryant coach Jared Grasso. “I’m just so thankful for this man [Grasso] sitting right next to me. He’s done so much for me.”
After Wednesday’s win, Wright State targets an even bigger historic achievement against Arizona.
“You don’t have much time to celebrate,” Holden said. “We’re probably going to celebrate on the flight, but right after that, you’ve got to turn it around. If you sit on this too long, you just live on the high. I feel like Arizona is predicted to win in a lot of brackets, so it will definitely be a fun matchup for us.”