Wright State coach Scott Nagy expected an inspired performance at Missouri State on Tuesday after a rousing road win at Toledo three days earlier.
It didn’t happen.
The Raiders overcame some frigid shooting in the first half and put up a challenge after halftime, but the preseason favorite in the Missouri Valley Conference held on down the stretch for a 66-50 victory.
“I don’t know how we come off a game like Toledo and not believe in ourselves more than that. But we didn’t,” Nagy said. “There’s no way you’ll convince me (the players) believed they could win that basketball game.”
The Raiders were 7-for-25 from the field (28 percent) and 1-for-11 on 3-pointers in the first half while falling behind, 34-16.
But senior guard Justin Mitchell led a second-half surge, and they cut the deficit to five with just under eight minutes remaining. That was as close as the visitors could get, though.
Mitchell scored a game-high 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting. Freshman guard Jaylon Hall had 10 points off the bench. And freshman center Louden Love had a team-high eight rebounds along with five points.
Senior Grant Benzinger and junior Mark Hughes combined for 4-for-25 shooting from the field, including 3-for-20 on 3-pointers.
“We had three kids who showed up, and two of them were freshmen in Louden and Jaylon. We need our older kids to show up and play and believe,” Nagy said.
The Bears (10-3) were 15-for-29 (51.7 percent) from the field and 4-for-8 on 3’s in the first half. But the Raiders (7-5) clamped down in the second half, holding their hosts to 11-for-27 from the field (40.7 percent), including 2-for-8 on 3’s.
Wright State never really could get its offense untracked, though, shooting only 18-of-64 (28.1 percent) overall and making just 6-of-29 three-pointers.
“We had wide open shots and can’t make them,” Nagy said. “We’re very, very fortunate we didn’t get beat by 40 the way we shot the ball.”
But despite their lowest output of the season in the first half, the Raiders didn’t roll over. Hughes and Benzinger hit 3-pointers to start the second half and cut the margin to 12.
The deficit was sliced to 44-36 when Mitchell dunked and drew a foul, converting the three-point play with 12:21 left.
That was the start of a 10-5 run as the Raiders made it a six-point game on Parker Ernsthausen’s layup with 9:43 to go.
A 3-pointer by Hall cut the margin to 53-48 with 7:51 remaining.
But the Bears’ Obediah Church made two free throws and, after a Hall miss, converted a layup to make it a nine-point spread at 4:48.
After Love missed a jumper, Jarrid Rhodes scored to give the Bears a 59-48 lead with four minutes to go.
Contributing to the Raiders’ woes was a 8-for-16 effort from the foul line.
“I believe we had the best basketball team, and we should’ve won this game,” Nagy said. “But it doesn’t matter what I believe. It’s what they believe.”
The Raiders went into the game having won seven of their last eight games. They play at Georgia Tech at 9 p.m. Friday.
Wright State at Georgia Tech, 9 p.m., 106.5