History of Raider basketball — the Gem City Jam

As Wright State men’s basketball grew in stature in the 1980s, its fans began to clamor for an opportunity to face the cross-town University of Dayton Flyers.  The Raiders had, after all, achieved extraordinary success at the Division II level, and enjoyed several wins over Division I teams along the way.

Fans and media wondered how that success would translate against the Flyers.

Dayton’s basketball program had a nearly 70-year jump on Wright State’s. It had qualified for nine NCAA tournaments from the 1950s through the ’80s, reaching the national finals in 1967. It also played in 10 NIT’s during that time, winning the title in 1968 when that tournament held a much higher standing in college basketball than it does today. Much of that success happened before Wright State even existed, which meant generations of Daytonians grew up Flyer fans.

Conversations between the two schools about playing one another began as Wright State was transitioning from Division II to Division I. Long-time UD coach Don Donoher supported playing the game and deserves much credit for making it happen, according to former coach Jim Brown.

“We had called them and asked about playing, and they said ‘when you guys are Division I we’ll play you.’ He honored his word and that’s how it all got started,” Brown said.

Following weeks of hype, the long-awaited first contest between the two schools in 1988 turned out to be anticlimactic. Dayton jumped out to a 25-9 lead in the first 10 minutes, and the Raiders never threatened. The lead was 50-23 at halftime as Anthony Corbitt scored 15 of his game-high 28 points. Wright State outscored the Flyers in the second half (48-39), but the outcome was never in doubt. The final score was 89-71.

David Dinn, a sophomore forward at the time, recalls the disappointment. “To go from the most exciting thing in your life, to, 40 minutes later feeling like you let everybody down. In the back of my mind, it took so long to get them to play us, will we get a chance to redeem ourselves.”

The second game in the series, played in January 1990, would be a different story.

Dayton entered the game 7-4 with a veteran cast that included future NBA player Negele Knight and local products Anthony Corbitt and Norm Grevey.

Conversely, a trio of Wright State underclassmen — Bill Edwards, Marcus Mumphrey and Sean Hammonds — led the high-scoring Raiders to an 8-3 record. Edwards thinks that youth was an advantage.

“We were young, and as they say, when you’re young you’re dumb. We were too dumb to be scared or intimidated. We felt like we could beat people,” he said.

Fans may have had a feeling of déjà vu in the game’s opening minutes, but Brown believed this team was different from the one that was overwhelmed two years before.

“We were down 11-1 early in the game. We called a timeout, and I looked at Billy Edwards and Sean Hammonds and there wasn’t a bit of fear in their eyes. There was anger, they were upset with themselves,” Brown said. “When that timeout was over, I felt really good about our chances.”

The young Raiders maintained their composure and tied the game at 26 midway through the first half, and actually took a two-point lead into halftime, 48-46. Wright State controlled much of the second half and led by as many as 16 points (85-69) before withstanding a late Flyer rally. Edwards and Hammonds led the way with 25 and 18 points, respectively.

The Flyers would go on to finish 22-10 and win a first-round game against Illinois in the NCAA tournament.

“It gave us immediate credibility in the Dayton area,” said Brown. “For Wright State fans, the national championship was something they could emphasize. Beating UD made Dayton fans realize we could play.”

The Raiders would go on to win two more games in the eight-game series, 77-65 in 1994 and 77-53 the following season. In the end, the Flyers would take the series 5-3. After years of debate, the upstart Raiders proved they belonged.

The interest in the Gem City Jam has been restoked frequently over the last 20 years. Whether it’s in the newspaper, on social media or at the local watering hole, many in the Dayton area believe the rivalry is great for the community and would like to see the series resume.

Bob Grant, athletic director at Wright State, is asked the question almost weekly. “Do I think the Gem City Jam will be rekindled? Yes I do. I’m a never-say-never guy,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for their program and how they do business, but I like our trajectory very much right now. I think that game is inevitable at some point in the future.”

Comments are closed.