Wright State coach Scott Nagy wanted his team to face a difficult schedule this season, coming off a Horizon League title and an NCAA tournament berth. With four returning starters and a couple of key reserves back, he felt he had the roster to withstand the challenge.
But the Raiders have lost two key subs to injury and have had some trouble finding their footing. They have a 4-4 record, losing to Penn State and SMU at the Cancun Challenge and Murray State and Indiana State on the road. Those teams are a combined 19-8.
“We thought if we had Jaylon, we certainly could have fared better. Losing him made that schedule a heckuva lot tougher,” Nagy said, referring to athletic sophomore wing Jaylon Hall, who played just one game before needing season-ending shoulder surgery.
“It’s the toughest schedule as a coach I’ve ever had for sure. And we’re not done with it.”
The Raiders also played Toledo at home, handing the Rockets their only loss in eight games. And they still have road games at Kent State, which is 7-1, and against 22nd-ranked Mississippi State.
They host rival Miami (4-4) at 7 p.m. today. And Nagy, who is in his third year with the Raiders and 24th year overall, is less concerned with the record and more intent on making sure his players don’t lose belief in themselves through this stretch.
“If you go through that, does it hurt the players’ confidence? Do they question themselves? I think we have an old enough team that it shouldn’t happen,” he said. “We played Indiana State really hard (in a 69-63 loss Saturday). We just missed a lot of easy shots. It’s the first time we’ve played hard enough on the road to win the game and understood how hard you have to play. I felt good about that.”
One difference in the schedule this year is the Raiders didn’t have their holiday tournament like the last two seasons, giving them two fewer home games.
“You look around the country, and teams win most of their non-conference home games and lose most of their non-conference road games. That’s just the way it works. And all of our road games have been tough ones. But still, if we’re going to be a championship team, we have to go win some of those games,” Nagy said.
The Raiders were 4-4 last season before rallying to a 25-10 record. But point guard Cole Gentry became eligible in the 10th game and provided a lift, while Nagy has fewer options this year and rotated just seven players at Indiana State.
Along with losing Hall, freshman forward Grant Basile, who was expected to provide inside depth, is out for the season after undergoing ankle surgery.
Freshman guard Skyelar Potter also missed practice this week after learning of the death of his stepmother over the weekend, but he’s expected to be available for Miami.
“It can be done,” Nagy said of playing with a thin bench. “You just have to play slower, a little more methodical.”
But demanding high minutes from so many starters can be taxing.
“It’s hard for (6-9 center) Loudon Love at 280 pounds to play 35 minutes a game. We’d like to get the rotation to eight if we could,” Nagy said.
Despite the rocky start, Gentry believes the Raiders can catch fire like last season.
“Nobody is thrilled to be 4-4, but we’re taking stuff from every game and we’re learning,” he said. “It can be done. We showed that last year. But it doesn’t just happen. We’ve got to make the changes.
“Everybody is still together and nobody is down. We’ve just got to keep improving and take the necessary steps to get where we want to be.”