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Wright State basketball: Raiders face tough road test at Murray State

As Wright State’s Bill Wampler and Skyelar Potter answered questions after Wednesday night’s season-opening victory over Western Carolina, they already knew who they would hear a lot about on the scouting report for Saturday night’s game at Murray State.

Ja Morant.

Both of them talked about how they’ve heard Morant could be a future NBA lottery draft pick. Morant averaged 12.4 points a game last year and deferred to two seniors who averaged 21 and 15 points. He’s a long 6-foot-3 guard from South Carolina who can drive it, dish it and dunk it and who flew below the big-time recruiting radar. Developing his 3-point range (30.7 percent last year) is one of his goals this season.

»RELATED: 5 takeaways from season-opening win

“We saw him last year as a freshman and he was surrounded by some tremendous players — seniors that they lost — and now it’s kind of his turn to turn it loose,” Raiders coach Scott Nagy said. “We’re obviously going to have to do a good job on him. Murray State is good every year. They recruit good players.”

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The Racers, who open their season Saturday, are coming off the best season in fourth-year coach Matt McMahon’s tenure. After an early-season 80-61 victory at the Nutter Center, the Racers finished 26-6, won Ohio Valley Conference regular-season and tournament titles and earned a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Morant is one of two returning full-time starters.

“It’s going to be guarding him and being able to do it together,” Wampler said.

»ARCHDEACON: Raiders center on rewarding journey

Great defensive play helped the Raiders (1-0) win the Horizon League tournament last year and reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. Nagy said earlier this week that this team can eventually be better on defense than last year’s unit that was 12th in the nation in defensive efficiency.

“We were pretty good the first half, we were guarding the ball well,” Wampler said of Wednesday night’s 96-73 win at home.

Indeed, the Raiders didn’t allow a field goal until almost seven minutes elapsed and held the Catamounts to 33.3 percent shooting in the first half. In the second half, the Catamounts scored 47 points and shot 51.5 percent. Nagy wasn’t happy with the second-half effort, but he also said he told his team he doesn’t want to be a perfectionist and drain the energy out of them.

“When you have a Division I win it’s a Division I win and you should be happy about it,” he said. “But I’m asking them to do better and not have the kind of breakdowns that we had in the second half.”

»ARCHDEACON: Potter taking flight for Raiders

The Raiders are aware that Murray State on the road will be a much bigger challenge than Western Carolina.

Wampler: “You’ve got to be 10 points better on the road, especially with a good team like that and a good atmosphere.”

Potter: “We’ve got to finish out our game stronger. We were out there pretty relaxed because we were up by so much. We’ve got to fix that.”

As excited as Potter was for his college debut Wednesday, he might be even more excited for Saturday. He is from Bowling Green, Kentucky, about a two-hour trip to Murray State in western Kentucky. Murray State recruited him but not as hard as Wright State did.

“I feel like I was slept on back at home,” he said.

The Racers won’t be sleeping on him this time. Potter came off the bench Wednesday to score 16 points and grab five rebounds in 24 minutes. And despite the 19-point win for the Racers last year, Nagy expects them to be focused on his team. That was the first of only two WSU home losses last year on their way to a 25-10 record.

“They know we have a good team so it will be high energy,” Nagy said. “We’re not going to sneak up on anybody.”

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