FAIRBORN — Wright State coach Scott Nagy isn’t normally one to gush about offense. He values defense and rebounding, and he’ll give ample minutes to players who excel in those two facets — even if they contribute very little on the scoring end.
But redshirt freshman Brandon Noel produced a bucket against Green Bay in the first round of the Horizon League tourney that even his coach found a little mind-blowing.
Racing across the lane, Noel stopped on the other side of the rim and picked up his dribble with his back to the basket.
Surrounded and seemingly out of options, the 6-8, 235-pound forward simply jumped straight up, twisted in mid-air, stretched his arm out over his defender and threw the ball down with force.
“I turned to one of my assistants and said, ‘Oh my goodness, if he’d just go like that all the time,’” Nagy said.
“There’s just nothing you can do with him. He’s so big and athletic and strong.”
The Raiders have had plenty of skilled players over the years, but probably none as multi-faceted as Noel.
The Chillicothe native averaged a modest 13.0 points, but he shot a league-best 60.9% (the next-best mark is 53.1).
And while he was the team’s unofficial leader in crowd-pleasing dunks, he also had the fifth-most 3′s with 15 while shooting 35.7%.
But his best attribute is rebounding. Needing to get acclimated to playing again after sitting out two years with an ACL injury, he averaged a league-high 10.1 boards in conference play.
He had 17 one game, 16 in another and 15 three times.
That compensated for his sometimes erratic play on offense.
He became just the eighth player under Nagy to notch a 30-point game, getting 32 at Green Bay. But he also went scoreless two weeks later against Milwaukee.
He always could be counted on, though, to rebound.
“That’s more like an effort thing. That’s something I can control more than my shot going in on most days,” he said.
His potential is what excites Nagy: “In our opinion, he’s going to explode next year.”
The coach added: “Some people have gaps between how we see them and how they see themselves. They think they’re better than they are.
“Brandon’s gap is just the opposite. We see him as way better than he sees himself. But that gap’s starting to close after having the year he did.”
Though quick to always credit others and careful not to sound boastful, Noel did say: “I have three more years left, and I’d like to just keep going up from here. I’m trying to do as much as possible to impact winning.”
Help on the way: The Raiders have found a key to getting the most out of players is often to redshirt them.
It certainly worked for Loudon Love. And though their sit-out years were more injury-related, Grant Basile, Alex Huibregtse and Noel all benefitted from being redshirted and maturing physically without burning a season of eligibility.
Three freshmen were held back this season: Drey Carter, a 6-foot-8 guard from Westerville South; Alex Garcia, a 6-8 froward from Cleveland St. Ignatius; and Logan Woods, a 6-4 guard from Fairfield.
Asked if any could have major roles next season, Nagy said all three have that potential but that Carter may be the most advanced.
“It’s not like we’re going to have a plethora of size, and Drey, in terms of versatility, gives us a lot. As thin as he is (he’s listed at 190), he’s very good with his back to the basket,” he said.
“He can shoot it, put it on the floor. He can guard a lot of people. That will give him a chance to be a factor next year.”
Sitting out a year is a hard sell to highly touted freshmen, but the staff makes sure they know they’re not forgotten and keeps them engaged through individual workouts apart from practice.
“The redshirt year, you don’t want to do it. But in the middle of it, sometimes I think you’re glad you did because you see the pressure and how we coach the other guys and how hard we are on them. It’s like, ‘Uggh, I don’t know if I’m ready for that.’” Nagy said.
“But now, we’re going to be looking at them and expecting the same things. And they’re ready for that.”
Horizon League tourney: Marques Warrick scored 18 points and Sam Vinson added 16 to lead Northern Kentucky to a 63-61 victory over Cleveland State and win the Horizon League Tournament championship on Tuesday.
The Norse (22-12), one-point losers to Wright State in last year’s title game, advance to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time since 2017.
Warrick made four consecutive free throws in the final half-minute to give the Norse a seven-point lead. The Vikings (21-13) scored twice in the final 10 seconds but a final 3-pointer came with just 0.2 left.
Hamilton High School grad Trey Robinson added 12 points for the Norse.
Cleveland State topped Green Bay to win the women’s tournament.
Wright State women: The Raiders set single-season program records for 3′s attempted at 888 and made at 323.
They led the league in treys per game at 10.1 and in percentage at 36.4. That’s the best clip at Wright State since a 37.0 mark in 2007-08.
They doubled their win totals from last season, going from 4-19 to 8-23. And while they won six of their last 10 games, second-year coach Kari Hoffman knows the status quo won’t suffice.
They were obliterated on the boards, getting beat by a league-worst 14.4 per game. Purdue Fort Wayne was next-to-last at minus-7.4
“We need to get a little bigger,” Hoffman said. “Obviously, we need to find some tough defenders and get better as a whole there as a group with our returners.”
Three of the top four scorers are graduating: Bryce Nixon, Emily Chapman and Isabelle Bolender.
“We need to replace our shooting,” Hoffman said. “There’s some big shoes to fill.
“That’s what we’ll be looking for (in recruiting), and we’ll expect more maturity from our returners.”
The Associated Press contributed.
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