After waiting nearly a week to find out who they will play next and where, the Wright State Raiders did not have much time to learn much about Clemson — or to get there.
That was OK with coach Scott Nagy.
“Sometimes that’s probably good,” he said Monday as the seventh-seeded Raiders prepared to leave for a matchup with the second-seeded Tigers on their home floor Tuesday night in the first round of the NIT. “Less thinking and more just reacting.”
The Raiders (21-13) last played last Tuesday, a 77-66 loss to Northern Kentucky in the Horizon League tournament championship game.
That was a deflating defeat — one that denied the Raiders a second consecutive NCAA tournament berth — but Nagy feels his team had enough time to mentally prepare for what’s next.
“I don’t know if it will ever be completely gone, but you have to deal with disappointment,” he said. “We talked about going into your next challenge you can either do it from a position of strength or a position of weakness depending on what happened.
“I think for every team that’s in the NIT, it’s how quickly can you get over the fact you’re not in the NCAA (tournament) and get yourself focused to play well.”
After going 19-13 and finishing eighth in the ACC, Clemson held hopes of getting an at-large bid to the Big Dance, but the Tigers’ bubble burst Sunday night.
That likely leaves ninth-year Clemson coach Brad Brownell, who held the same position at Wright State from 2007-10, with some pieces to put back together quickly.
“I think we’ve had a little bit more time to deal with that and get ourselves ready so that will be the challenge coach Brownell has,” Nagy said.
The current Wright State coach also guessed the former Raiders mentor would rather have seen another school scheduled to be headed to Littlejohn Coliseum to take on the Tigers.
“He’s personality-wise a little bit like me, so that’s why I say I’m sure he’s not excited about playing us because I wouldn’t be excited about that, but I think he’s a defensive-minded guy,” Nagy said. “He’s recruited guys that have stayed there and been loyal to him and that’s why they’ve won a lot of games.”
Having a little more time to study the Tigers might be nice, but Nagy said what they do under Brownell is fairly straightforward.
“They have five fifth-year seniors, the most experienced team we’ve played all year, maybe that we’ll ever play, but they’re not complicated,” Nagy said. “They’re just solid and they’re good defensively.”
Senior guard Mark Hughes said the Raiders are excited for another opportunity to take the court together.
Every game could be his last in Hunter Green and Gold, and the Youngstown native intends to make the most of it.
“The opportunity just to play again, put on the jersey again and play for a great university, we’re always jumping to do that,” Hughes said. “We’re playing a really good team so we’re definitely going to have to play well.”
The Raiders, who were preseason picks to win the Horizon League and played the whole conference campaign with a target on their backs, should be able to play without any pressure at Clemson.
“I feel like just being an underdog, we’re really just playing free,” he said. “We can win if we play how we’re capable of playing. That’s what it comes down to.”
Although Nagy was hired three years ago to turn making the NCAA tournament into a common occurrence for Wright State, he sees taking the Raiders to the NIT for the first time as an opportunity as well.
“It’s important for recruiting for sure,” he said. “If you are making the postseason, it means you’re winning. Really these are the only two tournaments we would be interested in, the NCAA and the NIT. I think the other ones are not what we’re trying to do, so for us to be in one of these and obviously this is the first time Wright State has been in the NIT. We need to see it’s something special and we have a chance to get the biggest win in Division I history at least.”