As debuts go, this one was a hit. And Bill Wampler was the star.
The junior transfer from Drake had been struggling with his shot recently, but Wright State coach Scott Nagy knew that wouldn’t last. Wampler gave a strong opening-night performance with 26 points to lead the Raiders to a 96-73 victory over Western Carolina at the Nutter Center.
Wampler made 9 of 15 shots including 5 of 9 from 3-point range. He scored 18 points in the first half to lead the Raiders to a 52-26 lead.
Wampler was ready to play. After only practicing and sitting out last season because of the transfer rule, he played some summer games in Brazil with Athletes In Action. But this was the night he’d been waiting for.
“I love these guys to death and I wouldn’t want to play with anybody else,” he said. “I don’t really have words for how much fun it is to play with these guys.”
Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. Newcomers can score: Wampler wasn’t the only opening-night success. Freshmen 6-foot-3 guards Skyelar Potter and Malachi Smith got more opportunities because sophomore Jaylon Hall was unable to play. Hall sprained an ankle in practice Tuesday. Nagy said the decision to keep Hall on the bench was made right before the game.
Potter scored 16 points, made three 3-pointers and grabbed five rebounds. Smith scored 10 points.
“I think I fit in pretty well,” Potter said. “I come in and I just play my role to hit the open shots and be aggressive and drive to the rim.”
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Nagy said he loves Potter’s aggressiveness and ability to drive, but the coach wants to see less double-pumping.
“As athletic as he is, if he gets to the basket I’d like to see him just try to dunk it or get fouled,” Nagy said. “He’s incredibly strong and athletic and he’s hard to keep from getting to the basket.”
2. Love’s post play opens up the offense: Leading returning scorer Loudon Love, a 6-9, 280-pound sophomore, played well in the post with 17 points and a team-high six rebounds. He was the Horizon League freshman of the year and is on the all-league preseason first team.
“Loudon gives us a lot of open shots and that’s something I’ve never really had,” Wampler said. “He creates a lot of offense for us.”
3. 40 percent could be realistic goal: One of Nagy’s goals this season is to shoot 40 percent from 3-point range. He expects defenses to pay a lot of attention to Love in the post, which leaves shooters like Wampler, Potter and Mark Hughes open to shoot threes. The Raiders made 12 of 26 for 46.2 percent.
“A lot of people would say that’s a pretty lofty goal,” Nagy said. “But I think we can do it. If we can, then with Loudon inside that’s going to open things up for him.”
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4. Point-guard play is key: Another reason for the big offensive night was the play of junior point guard Cole Gentry. He had a career-high nine assists.
5. Nagy wants 40 minutes of defense: Nagy said Tuesday that this team can be better defensively than it was last year when it ranked 12th in the nation in defensive efficiency. In the first half, the Raiders looked like a team that could eventually reach that level. Western didn’t make its first field goal until the 13:17 mark and shot 33.3 percent for the half. However, they shot 51.5 percent in the second half and scored 47 points.
“The first half we very sharp,” Nagy said. “The second half I was not pleased at all. I walked off the floor very bothered with how we played in the second half. When you have a 26-point lead it’s hard to maintain focus, I get that. I’m trying to ask the guys to be excellent. I think in order to do that then that’s just the way you play. You don’t worry about what the score is.”