Archdeacon: Raiders continue ‘to fight through’ struggles

Wright State's Grant Basile shoots a free throw during a game earlier this season. Basile scored 11 points vs. Akron on Wednesday at the Nutter Center. Joe Craven/Wright State Athletics

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Wright State's Grant Basile shoots a free throw during a game earlier this season. Basile scored 11 points vs. Akron on Wednesday at the Nutter Center. Joe Craven/Wright State Athletics

Wright State hosts Tennessee Tech on Saturday

FAIRBORN – After the game – after Wright State had lost to Akron, 66-48, Wednesday night at the Nutter Center and fallen to a much-unexpected 2-7 record – I walked into the postgame press conference and soon felt I’d stumbled into one of those angst-filled sessions you get with those suspect soothers, Dr. Phil and Dr. Drew.

In a seven-minute session sitting alongside teammate Grant Basile, Tanner Holden – a first team All-Horizon League pick last season and the Raiders leading scorer this season – mentioned “emotions” and “emotional” on eight different occasions.

Among other references, he talked about: emotional maturity, emotional ups and downs, emotional expectations, emotionally questioning themselves and emotionally checking themselves.

Basile – either not so in touch with his “feelings” or just a little grumpy after a thorough thumping by the Zips – just said the team “can’t feel sorry” for itself.

Even head coach Scott Nagy, WSU’s successful head coach and a no-nonsense presence on the sideline and the postgame dais, talked about trying to get the players’ “emotions in the right spot.”

If you think it sounds like a team having trouble finding its way right now, you’d be right.

The Raiders have left everybody scratching their heads with this rare stumble out of the gate.

They returned four starters from last year’s 18-6 team. Albeit the one loss was Loudon Love, the two-time Horizon League Player of the Year, who scored 1,792 points and grabbed 1,123 rebounds in his 120-game WSU career and now is in the NBA G-League.

But with all that experience returning, WSU, in a preseason poll of Horizon League coaches, sports information directors and media, was picked to finish second in the conference this season.

In Nagy’s five previous WSU seasons, the Raiders never have had a losing record.

This year began with the team in defensive disarray – it was “hard to be any worse than we were,” Basile said – but Nagy and his staff put all their recent efforts into getting that fixed and the team made some strides there Wednesday night.

But afterward Nagy said he now feared: “I may have broken our rhythm offensively.”

Wednesday night, WSU couldn’t have been much worse offensively.

The 48 points were the Raiders’ second-lowest point total in Nagy’s 5 ½ seasons here. The low tide was 47 against Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament in 2018.

Last season, according to NCAA statistics, the Raiders had the ninth most efficient offense in the nation. Now they’re 230th.

Against the Zips, WSU shot 20 percent (3 of 15) from three-point range and 37.3 percent (19 of 51) from the floor. The team had just four assists.

The Raiders’ two leaders were especially stifled. The 6-foot-9 Basile went 4 for 15 from the floor, was 0 for 3 from three-point-range and finished with 11 points.

Holden made 5 of 13 shots, went 0 for 2 from long range and had 12 points.

“We just have no confidence offensively from so many of our guys at one time,” Nagy said. “We weren’t good enough offensively to win this game, for sure.”

Akron, which is now 7-3, was the more athletic team, the more aggressive team. The Zips out-rebounded and out-shot the Raiders. And they played much freer and unencumbered on the court.

“It’s hard for me to watch other teams’ players play with such confidence and our guys not,” Nagy said.

Asked how that could be – with four returning starters – Nagy shook his head:

“That’s a good question. I don’t know what to tell you. I wouldn’t have thought that the offensive end of the floor would be one of our struggles.”

Pressed on some reasons, Nagy finally offered possibilities:

»The loss of Love has put new focus and pressure on the team’s stars, Holden and Basile.

»The team’s tough early-season schedule – which included road losses to Purdue, Marshall, three teams in a Florida tournament and Cleveland State, picked No 1 in the Horizon League preseason poll – has “impacted” the team: “We played so many tough games that our confidence level is just not great.”

»No one on the team – whether drawing from previous WSU seasons or their high school days – is used “to being in a tough situation” like this.

When he said the latter, Nagy quickly amended the point and, once again, showed what I like about him. He sees the bigger picture.

“When I say a tough situation, we’re being relative here,” he said. “We’re just playing basketball.”

He then refocused on the moment at hand: “But it is important to the guys and it’s important to our staff and our fans at Wright State.”

Nagy and Holden both noted that players tried to do too much on their own, rather than stick to the game plan. Holden said when shots didn’t fall, some self-doubt began to creep in and “we were scaring ourselves out of shots.”

As for a solution, Nagy said: “When people go through difficult times in their lives, the question they generally ask is ‘Why?’

“But the question they should be asking is ‘What? What can I do? Who can I help?’

“That’s hard for people to do. They’d rather ask ‘Why?’ and turn in and mope.

“I’m the same way. I have to fight through things, too.”

Holden said family, former high school coaches and friends often reach out at times like this, but the solution has to come from the 15 players wearing Raiders’ jerseys:

“People can pat you on the back after a bad game, but if you’re not checked in with your teammates, it really doesn’t matter.

“We have a lot of guys who have played a lot of minutes of college basketball. We know how to play. We just need to play our game.

“We just have to have some emotional maturity set in.”

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