Detroit — A 22-loss team in the NCAA Tournament?
Well, that doesn't seem "Wright" — and Wright State said as much Tuesday night, beating Cleveland State, 74-57, in the Horizon League men's championship game at Little Caesars Arena.
Second-seeded Wright State (25-9), with a program record for wins in a season, gets the league's automatic bid into the NCAAs, denying Cleveland State its fourth victory in five days.
"I've been coaching for a long time," Wright State coach Scott Nagy said during the trophy presentation and before cutting down the nets, "and this is a true definition of a team. They care so much about each other."
Cleveland State (12-23), which stunned Oakland on Monday night, was trying to become the third 20-loss team to play in the NCAA Tournament, joining Liberty (15-20, Big South, 2013) and Coppin State (16-20, MEAC, 2008). Its RPI is 287, its KenPom rankings 303.
Instead, led by senior guard Grant Benzinger's 19 points, Wright State advanced to its third NCAA Tournament, and first since 2007. Benzinger, the son of former Major League Baseball player Todd Benzinger, was named tournament MVP.
Senior guard Kenny Carpenter, a former Detroit Cass Tech standout, led Cleveland State with 18 points and averaged 17.8 for the four games, while freshman guard Tyree Appleby added 15 points. Both Carpenter and Appleby made the all-tournament team.
"Just a great experience," Carpenter said. "One I'll never forget."
The size and length of Wright State did in Cleveland State, with the Raiders grabbing 12 offensive rebounds and turning them into 18 second-chance points. A big turning point came four minutes into the second half, when Wright State freshman Jaylon Hall missed a 3-pointer but grabbed his own rebound and dunked it. Less than two minutes later, redshirt freshman swingman Everett Winchester dunked and was fouled. He missed the free throw, but center Loudon Love — the 6-foot-9, 275-pound Horizon League freshman of the year — grabbed it and laid it in for a four-point possession and a 44-33 lead. And that was that.
"Love, he displaced us all game. He literally displaced us," first-year Cleveland State coach Dennis Felton said. "I felt like they were in pretty much control of the game for most of the night and we were just fighting to stay in there and kind of be relevant.
"And plays like that can be backbreaking."
Love finished with 12 rebounds, and Hall and redshirt sophomore guard Cole Gentry each scored 11.
Nagy, in his second year at Wright State, will make his fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament. He made three with South Dakota State, most recently in 2016. And he takes his team there, despite some adversity on the injury front and an 0-3 start to the season.
He preached to his team from the get-go to keep believing, and just maybe good things will happen in March. Not that he guaranteed anything.
"This whole team is a bunch of workhorses," Benzinger said. "You say you believe, but then you gotta put in the work."
Cleveland State, with the larger fan base between the two schools on hand, seized the momentum and led early, but then went more than 5 minutes without a basket late in the first half and never really recovered. The team was just 2-for-12 from 3-point range in the first half, 8-for-25 for the game.
Earlier Tuesday, top-seeded Green Bay (29-3) won the women's tournament championship for the seventh time in eight years.
HORIZON LEAGUE TOURNAMENT
Green Bay 93, Detroit Mercy 81
Cleveland State 72, Youngstown State 71
Wright State 87, Green Bay 72
Cleveland State 89, Northern Kentucky 80
Milwaukee 80, UIC 75
Oakland 62, IUPUI 55
Cleveland State 44, Oakland 43
Wright State 59, Milwaukee 53
Wright State 74, Cleveland State 57