Wright State hits road in hopes of getting back on track

Credit: David A. Moodie

Credit: David A. Moodie

FAIRBORN — Wright State coach Scott Nagy normally would prefer what’s become the typical major-conference non-league schedule: playing almost exclusively at home and enjoying the familiar surroundings and a supportive crowd for the first two months of the season.

Not this year, though.

The Raiders have done their best work away from the Nutter Center, beating Louisville and going 2-1 in a quality mid-major Thanksgiving tourney.

They’re 2-3 at home — 1-3 not counting a visit from Division-III Defiance.

“Really, we’ve played better on the road, so it might be good medicine for us — just to get away from here and be together,” Nagy said.

“Sometimes, I feel like that helps a team and just kind of galvanizes them.”

The Raiders will face two toughies in a row, traveling to Western Kentucky on Saturday and Akron on Wednesday.

While they haven’t played a taxing schedule, the Hilltoppers are 7-1. They were picked second in the 11-team Conference USA preseason poll with three players being named all-league.

Akron was picked third in the 12-team MAC and have two all-conference players.

The Zips are 4-4 but have scheduled up. They actually met Western Kentucky in the Cayman Islands Classic on Thanksgiving weekend and won, 72-53.

“These are obviously two very, very difficult games coming up — two of the best teams we’ll play this year, both on the road. It’ll be interesting to see how we respond,” Nagy said.

The Raiders lost their first two games in the Horizon League last week, and what’s worrisome to Nagy is the inconsistent play.

They’re fifth nationally in field-goal percentage at 51.6, but their top two stars have hit rough patches.

Trey Calvin, averaging 19.3 points, had a combined 17 in the two games, going 7 of 26 from the field.

Amari Davis, averaging 14, scored 20 against Robert Morris and Youngstown State on 9-of-23 shooting.

But the Raiders may have found a front-court combination that could trigger a turnaround.

Brandon Noel, playing mostly as the team’s sixth man, is first in the league (by a mile) and 14th nationally in field-goal shooting at 66.2%. The 6-foot-8 redshirt freshman is third on the team in scoring at 12.7 per game and first in rebounding at 6.8.

A.J. Braun, a 6-9 sophomore, made the HL all-freshman team last season and is fourth on the team in scoring at 9.8.

Nagy played the two extensively against YSU on Sunday, and Noel had 22 points, while Braun matched his career high with 17. They both had eight rebounds, combining for 11 on the offensive end.

“Coach has been on us — especially me, because I haven’t been pulling my weight lately — to get rebounds and help the team by being a leader. He wants me stepping up and being confident when I get the ball,” Braun said.

“He wants us crashing the O-boards to get us going. That’s been the big thing he’s been harping on us about. We try to do that every game, and we did better (against YSU). But we’ve got to keep pushing.”

Noel has averaged 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in his last four games.

“It’s fun playing with him,” he said of Braun. “We have a good time out there, battling back and forth.

“Eleven offensive rebounds — that’s what we’ve been working on, and it feels good to get some of those.”

Nagy has been playing a lot of small ball, starting two 6-foot guards. But Braun played 29 minutes and Noel 35 against the Penguins, and few teams in the league will have two “bigs” capable of matching up with that pair.

“That was the first game we’ve really played together a lot. It was fun,” Braun said.

“We’ve got to get the win next time. But hopefully, Coach can keep putting me and him together, and we can keep working. It was going well.”

They have a tall task ahead of them, though — literally.

Jamarion Sharp, WKU’s 7-5 center, is the tallest player in Division I and one of the tallest people in the U.S. His father is 6-8 and his mother 6-5.

He grew up in Kentucky and was a 7-footer by his senior year of high school. A senior for the Hilltoppers, he was the Conference USA defensive player of the year last season after notching 148 blocks (4.6 per game), second in the nation.

He has 40 blocks in eight games this season.


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

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