Wright State’s Grant Benzinger didn’t know how much he’d play in the season opener Friday at Loyola after missing almost the entire preseason after hernia surgery and not rejoining the team until the final practice before the game.
He figured he’d be on a minutes restriction and ease back into action. But coach Scott Nagy had bigger plans for the senior wing than that.
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“On the day of the game, he told me I was starting. I was like, ‘Are you sure?’ I was uneasy about it because I think you should deserve it in practice,” Benzinger said. “I didn’t practice, but I ended up playing pretty well, and I’ve just got to build on that.”
Benzinger scored a team-high 16 points before fouling out after 31 minutes in the 84-80 loss . He made 6-of-12 shots and 4-of-7 three-pointers.
His surgery was Sept. 19, and he was hoping to be cleared in four weeks — six at the most. But it turned out to be seven.
He was confined to working on his conditioning and light shooting.
“I was basically training for a triathlon — biking, swimming, running. No change of direction, just run straight lines,” he said.
“I technically wasn’t allowed to shoot a jump shot until that Thursday. Now, I snuck some in. I’m not saying I didn’t shoot any at all. I did here and there, and it turned out well.”
He occasionally became winded and called for a sub. And he still expects to need some breathers when the Raiders play at Miami at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
But Nagy wasn’t at all shocked by what he got from the team’s leading returning scorer.
“It just speaks to how tough he is. He just is,” Nagy said. “He once got called for a foul diving on the floor going for the ball.
“(Sunday’s) practice was the first full one he had, and it was just a different practice. It was physical and turned up because, one, we lost, which kind of wakes guys up. But two, because Grant’s there, and he makes things go up a level.”
Benzinger averaged 12.8 points last season and led all regulars in 3-point accuracy (41.9 percent) and foul shooting (84.8).
“He’s going to score a lot of points,” Nagy said. “You have to guard him because he shoots it too well, and he puts it on the floor much better than he used to. He’s going to get fouled and get to the free-throw line. He’s going to be a tough ‘guard’ for people.”
Nagy hopes that’s the case against the RedHawks, who had an exhilarating start to the season by pulling out a 55-54 win at Fordham in the final seconds Friday.
The program is going through an overhaul with Jack Owens, a longtime Purdue assistant, replacing the fired John Cooper as coach. The star brother tandem of Michael and Marcus Weathers transferred to Oklahoma State and Duquesne, respectively, and the RedHawks are starting three freshmen.
But while Miami hasn’t had a winning season since 2008-09, Owens sees plenty of promise.
“I think we have some pieces in place to be successful this year,” he said. “We can compete in each and every game we play. We have a lot of young talent. We have some good players from last year. Putting those things together is going to be a challenge, but it’s an exciting time.”