Wright State basketball: Raiders still hurting but have top talent returning

Wright State forward Grant Basile attempts a dunk but bounces the ball off the rim against Milwaukee during a Horizon League quarterfinal at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Mar. 2, 2021. Wright State lost 94-92. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED

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Wright State forward Grant Basile attempts a dunk but bounces the ball off the rim against Milwaukee during a Horizon League quarterfinal at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Mar. 2, 2021. Wright State lost 94-92. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED

FAIRBORN — Wright State coach Scott Nagy insisted he made more mistakes than his players during a 94-92 Horizon League tournament loss to Milwaukee. And roughly one week removed from that devastating setback, he still believes he deserves the bulk of the blame.

But he was caught by surprise when the Panthers, down 24 with 6:15 to go, put together a closing surge that didn’t seem possible. And while he saw some shortcomings late in the game that needed to be addressed, he figured he’d have another practice to do it.

“We were up 24. We were whipping them. It just got going in a way where we couldn’t get it stopped,” he said.

He probably could have made better use of his timeouts to slow momentum. He didn’t call one until the lead was down to six with 1:32 to go.

But he’s a 500-win coach who has seen every conceivable situation. And probably no one watching really thought the game was in danger of getting away until it was too late.

“I didn’t help our guys,” he said. “There was a point with four or five minutes to go where I was frustrated with some of the things we were doing. I could have helped stop the bleeding — but I didn’t think we were going to lose.

“Here I am after 26 years still making all kinds of mistakes.”

A crucial one, though, has to be owned by the players.

Milwaukee, trailing by three and inbounding the ball with 8.3 seconds to go, was able to go the length of the floor and get a wide-open 3. Te’Jon Lucas was trapped and passed to DeAndre Gholston, who connected with 1.3 seconds left to force OT.

The plan was to foul the Panthers before they could get a shot off.

“There were a lot of things we should’ve done and didn’t do, but that was a big one,” Nagy said.

“I didn’t want to take a chance on going into overtime and losing. People say, ‘Well, you could lose the game there (on a free throw, an offensive rebound and a 3).’ I don’t care. You go back and show me the times someone has fouled and lost the game vs. someone who hasn’t fouled and lost the game. I could show you a heckuva lot more.”

What made the outcome all the more excruciating is that the Raiders had perhaps their best team in 34 years as a Division I program — certainly the best in Nagy’s five years — but they paid a steep price for losing in a single-elimination tournament of a one-bid league.

They finished 18-6 overall and 16-4 and tied for first in the conference. They’ve had a .750 winning percentage only three times in their history: this year, last year (25-7) and 1989-90 (21-7).

They’ve had a winning percentage of .800 in the league only three times: this year, last year (15-3) and 2006-07 (13-3).

They outscored their opponents by 14.6 points per game, easily their best mark ever.

They averaged 82 points and shot 48.3% from the field, which is the best they’ve done in 29 years. Their opponent field-goal percentage of 40.1 is the lowest in 12 years.

College basketball analysts, like ESPN’s Jay Bilas, saw them not only making the NCAA tourney, but possibly advancing.

They’re 70th in the NET rankings — by far the best in the league and 57 spots higher than last season when they also were No. 1 in the conference.

“Statistically, in so many areas, we had an incredible year,” Nagy said.

What most will remember, though, is their second straight one-and-done showing in the league tourney.

“It’s unfortunate, at this level, with all that domination, if you don’t get to the NCAA tournament, none of it means anything. I hate the fact we have to play a tournament to get to the NCAA tournament. It’s like being a conference champion doesn’t mean anything,” Nagy said.

“I don’t want our players to feel that way. That’s our No. 1 goal starting out. We’ve done it three years in a row. How many teams have done that? But when you place it all on two or three games, that’s frustrating. I don’t want our players to feel that way, and it’s hard for them not to.”

Nagy’s goal is to turn the Raiders into an at-large team to lessen the weight of the league tourney.

“I’ve always said what we’re trying to do here is build a top-25 team. There’s plenty of people telling me why we can’t do it. I’m not interested in that,” he said.

The truncated non-league schedule made that nearly impossible this year, but the Raiders will go into next season with plenty of promise — especially if two-time league player of the year Loudon Love comes back.

The 6-foot-8, 255-pound center is the third-leading scorer in team history with 1,792 points and easily first in rebounds with 1,123. And since the NCAA has given all athletes a free year of eligibility, he could return as a sixth-year senior.

“We’re not in a rush on Loudon,” Nagy said. “It’s not like we’re in a situation where, if he doesn’t come back, we’re going to fall apart.

“We always plan on the fact that he won’t. He hasn’t made those decisions right now. What the opportunities are for him after college basketball and outside of basketball, he’s got to figure those things out.

“Obviously, we’re not dumb. We’d love to have him back. But I also get that he’s been in school five years.”

Even without him, the Raiders will be loaded.

They started four sophomores, and three earned postseason honors: Tanner Holden (first-team all-league), Grant Basile (second team) and Tim Finke (all-defensive team).

The 6-9, long-armed Basile showed what a high ceiling he has after becoming a starter at midseason. He racked up 35 points and 14 rebounds in the tourney loss.

“As he comes back next year, there’s nothing stopping him from being a superstar,” Nagy said.

Love averaged 16.6 points, Holden 15.8, Basile 15.0, Finke 10.0 and Trey Calvin 9.7.

If Nagy has a regret about the season, though, it’s that he didn’t utilize his bench more. No one played crunch-time minutes outside of Jaylon Hall and Alex Huibregtse.

“We got into a situation where we were playing seven guys and were comfortable with it, and it was hard to change,” Nagy said. “Some other guys were playing well in practice, and now it’s leveled out. You have an opportunity to show you can play. I think that’ll happen and we’ll be deeper.”

The Raiders also will have, presumably, a home-court advantage again. They led the league in attendance last year by averaging 4,154 fans, but the lack of energy in the cavernous Nutter Center probably contributed to their middling 9-4 home record.

They went 14-2, 15-2 and 14-2 the previous three seasons.

“Our building is such a big, big building. And when it’s empty, it’s pretty flat,” Nagy said.

But he’s not going to complain. While spring sports were wiped out in 2020 because of the pandemic, Wright State had basketball for three months — 24 straight games without an interruption.

“We were thankful we got to play a season. It wasn’t a complete season, but it was pretty close,” Nagy said.

Wright State could enter rare territory in 2021-22 when it goes for a fourth straight regular-season title.

Only Butler has done that in the Horizon League, winning four in a row from 2000-04 and five straight from 2006-11.

The Raiders certainly would relish another championship season.

Finishing it off with a happy ending would be even better.

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