Wright State basketball: Raiders hope early setbacks haven’t put league title out of reach

FAIRBORN — Wright State expected to be hobnobbing with the Horizon League elite after two conference games — not wallowing at the bottom of the standings with teams that figure to be non-factors in the race.

But that’s where the Raiders find themselves after a pair of double-digit defeats to Robert Morris and Youngstown State in early December.

What makes the results especially costly is that they came at the Nutter Center, giving the league leaders a significant head start.

“This team is going to have to be special on the road — we just are — to make up for having two home losses already,” Wright State coach Scott Nagy said. “But we’re capable of it.”

The Raiders, who have eight home games and 10 on the road, play Thursday at Northern Kentucky, picked the preseason co-favorite with Purdue Fort Wayne.

The Norse started with a pair of four-point wins over Robert Morris and Youngstown State, though the Penguins took them to double overtime.

“We know we’re a little behind the 8-ball,” Nagy said, “and we’re going to have to be special the next 18 games.”

If the Raiders are able to overcome their wobbly start and win the league, it certainly would be a special feat.

It also would be unprecedented.

Since Wright State entered the Horizon League in 1994, no team has started 0-2 and captured the regular-season title.

Twenty-one outright winners, 12 co-champions and three tri-champs in those 28 seasons all either split their first two games or won them both.

Working in the Raiders’ favor is the lengthened schedule. The HL went from 18 to 20 games in 2020-21.

But the league seems a little stronger across the board.

Oakland finished with the highest NET rating last season at 173, the only HL team in the top half.

Robert Morris (328), Milwaukee (333), Green Bay (344) and IUPUI (358) were among the worst teams in the country.

This season, Youngstown State (112), Purdue Fort Wayne (123), Detroit Mercy (173), Milwaukee (174) and Cleveland State (175) are all sitting in the top half nationally. And only three teams are in the dreaded 300s.

Wright State, ranked 223, lost both regular-season games to NKU (253) last season but pulled out a 72-71 victory in the HL championship.

Trey Calvin hit a jumper with 10.5 seconds left for the winning points, completing a comeback from a 16-point second-half deficit.

The 6-foot-1 senior guard is fifth in the league in scoring with a 17.8 average, fourth in assists at 4.9 per game and fifth in field-goal shooting at 48.5%.

But Nagy has been sending a message that he’s not completely happy with his star, keeping him out of the starting lineup the last five games.

Asked if it’s time for Calvin to regain his spot, Nagy said: “He’s playing the same number of minutes. What’s the difference?”

He added: “I’m just of the belief for all of us — even myself, I tell kids all the time, ‘You’ve got to fire yourself every day and earn it.’

“You can’t think it’s always going to be there. You can’t think you’re always going to be a starter. Every day, you have to earn it. If you don’t, someone else will take it.”

Translation: Nagy may not be done sending a message.

THURSDAY’S GAME

Wright State at Northern Kentucky, 7 p.m., ESPN+, 980

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