Wright State’s NCAA Tournament hopes went up in Flames on Monday night.
That would be the UIC Flames, who beat the Raiders out 73-56 in a Horizon League tournament semifinal at Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
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Wright State dominated the HL regular season for the most part, but the outright champions lost two of three games to the Flames (18-16), who advanced to the championship game with hopes of getting their own surprise Big Dance invite.
The latest loss left Wright State coach Scott Nagy sounding certain his team would not get one despite going 25-7 and boasting a team with a strong inside game (HL Player of the Year Loudon Love), perimeter shooting (Bill Wampler and others) and a senior point guard (Cole Gentry) to run the show.
“Well it’s why we want to get Wright State hopefully to the point — and I would hope everybody else in our league would think this way, too – that we can start getting more than one team in the league (in the NCAA Tournament) and so we can’t have the kind of year that we’ve had and it all comes down to one or two games at the end of the year for you to get where you where you really want to get,” said Nagy, the league’s co-coach of the year.
From the start Monday night, almost nothing went right for the Raiders, who set a program record for regular-season wins in the Division I era and won a program-record 15 conference games.
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Despite that, they are 0-1 in the postseason with a shooting percentage of 28.3 from the field, 25.0 from 3-point range and 51.7 percent from the free-throw line.
Those numbers contrasted with the conference season when the Raiders were No. 1 in scoring (81.9 points per game), field goal percentage (46.6) and 3-point percentage (40.3).
“It’s hard to think about right now because the loss is so, so raw and just happened, but I’m sure as time goes on, we’ll appreciate everything we did and all the time we spent together and all the opportunities we got here,” Gentry said.
Gentry had five points and four assists against the Flames while Wampler topped WSU with 14 points and Love added six.
The Raiders had a conference-best scoring margin of 10.06 points per game – almost double the second-best mark – and UIC coach Steve McClain is among the believers Wright State would have acquitted itself well in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think it’s a shame that Wright State doesn’t get talked about in the same language as East Tennessee State, people like that,” McClain said. “That team plays in the NCAA Tournament, they win a game, OK? Because we know everything about ‘em. When you get there, they don’t know about you.”
By all appearances, they won’t be there, though, because they lack some of the numbers of an at-large team.
Wright State entered the game 120th in the NCAA’s NET rankings, a tool in determining the field, and 123rd in KenPom.com efficiency ratings.
By winning the regular season championship, the Raiders secured themselves a spot in the NIT for the second consecutive season, and for the second consecutive season Nagy will point his team toward the goal of winning a postseason game for the first time since the program joined Division I.
“Well you know that needs to be the goal now,” said Nagy, whose Raiders lost at Clemson in the opening round of the NIT last season. “When I was at South Dakota State, we played in the NIT and we were the eight seed and we beat the one seed and that was one of the best victories South Dakota State’s ever had, so you know that that has to be the thought process.”
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