Wright State coach Scott Nagy doesn’t want his players letting the one-and-done flame-out in the Horizon League tournament diminish what they accomplished this season.
It’s not easy, of course. The Raiders seemed poised not only to reach the NCAA tourney, but perhaps pull off an upset or two.
They went 25-7 overall, 15-3 in the league while winning their first outright title and 9-3 on the road — setting school records in their 33-year Division-I era for regular-season, conference and road victories.
That’s a successful season in anyone’s eyes, even though the 73-56 loss to lightly regarded UIC may sting for a while.
“I told our guys I don’t want anything to take away from the historic season we had and the good light it brought on the university and athletic department,” Nagy said.
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Only 28 of 353 D-I teams won 25 or more games. And the Raiders had earned a chance to play in the postseason by winning the league’s automatic NIT bid.
But the tourney — like virtually everything else in sports — was called off because of the coronavirus. And the lost opportunity left Nagy miffed.
“I’m so disgusted by it all. It’s hard,” he said. “I can’t believe the fear involved (behind all the cancellations). I think it’s a you-have-to-cover-your-own-rear-end type of deal. But the kids are the ones who get hurt the most.”
Nagy has been to the NIT twice, losing in the first round last year but leading South Dakota State to a road win over No. 1-seed Colorado State in 2015.
“There’s not a team that wants to be in the NIT (after NCAA hopes are dashed), but the teams that can get over it quickly play better,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you can make a run in it, and it can change how everything looks.
“We were hoping for that. But everybody was hoping for something, and nobody is getting anything. We’re all shut down.”
Athletic director Bob Grant understands Nagy’s frustration. He’s had to deliver tough news to several of his coaches this week. All winter sports are done, while spring sports in the Horizon League have been suspended indefinitely.
The College World Series in baseball and softball have been cancelled, though some regular-season games could still be played.
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The NCAA also is exploring the possibility, though no ruling has been made, of giving athletes in spring sports another year to play.
“Nationally, there are all kinds of scary issues going on, so this is secondary to all that. But to our student-athletes, it’s important,” Grant said.
“I don’t know what will happen in spring sports, whether they’ll get eligibility back. But for Cole Gentry, Bill Wampler and Jordan Ash, they’re not getting it back. And it breaks my heart over how their year ended.
“For our three seniors in women’s basketball, same thing. They had a very good shot at the WNIT. Those are good building blocks for our (athletic) program. We’re young, and they’re important steps along our trajectory.”
Grant said he feels for Northern Kentucky, which won the league tourney but will miss out on March Madness.
“This is a mid-major program that has done great things. You don’t know when you’re getting back to the tournament. It’s easy for a Power-5 school to say we’ll be back next year,” he said.
“I feel bad for our crosstown brethren (the Dayton Flyers), who had the best season in their history. They’re rocking and rolling, probably heading toward a 1 seed — and poof, it’s over. It really is a gigantic kick in the gut.”
The training staff is still keeping regular hours and providing care. The dorms are open, and many students have remained on campus, though classes are being done remotely.
Athletes also have been working out on their own, staging impromptu practices without coaches.
Momentum may be building toward officially ending spring sports, but the league is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“We’ll probably have calls daily saying, ‘What does this look like now?’” Grant said. “We want to be careful not to give those spring athletes false hope, but they want to compete.
“Our golf team is rolling right now. Our baseball team is No. 22 in the RPI in the country. These are good programs that have good seniors and great ambassadors for our school, and I’m going to try to find a way to make this palatable for them, if at all possible.”
The abrupt ending to the basketball season meant coaches throughout the nation had to say early good-byes to their seniors. That was difficult for Nagy.
Wampler finished with 1,008 points in two seasons after transferring from Drake, while Gentry ended 15 shy of 1,000 in his three years after coming from South Dakota State.
The point guard also shot 86.6% on free throws in his career, the third-best mark in team history.
“I’m so appreciative of them and feel terrible for them,” Nagy said.
The Raiders would have learned their NIT opponent and destination Sunday night — they probably would have been an 8 seed playing at a 1 seed — and would be practicing for a game on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Instead, they’ll regroup in the summer with undoubtedly the best returning nucleus in the league, including conference player of the year Loudon Love.
The Raiders may have just pulled off a historic season, but they look capable of blowing past those win totals in 2020-21.
“We’re super thrilled with our players and the direction of our program,” Nagy said.
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