Raiders end non-conference with the highest highs and lowest lows

Photo courtesy of Wright State Athletics

This week displayed two very separate Raider squads; one that can soar to the heights thought of during the preseason and with the potential to cause upsets, and one that fell to depths we haven’t seen since Nagy’s first year in his position.

The Raiders finally got to have their chance at a D1 home game against the MAC’s Akron Zips, a basketball program that has been punching above its weight class this year. Akron has quality wins against programs like Marshall, which Wright State had to narrowly accept defeat to, and Florida A&M, as well as an incredibly close game to Ohio State that drew everyone’s attention at the start of the season. Before making the 2 hour trip down to Dayton, the Zips were riding a four game winning streak. After starting Horizon League competition 1-1, the Raiders were hoping to get a breath of fresh air at home and a third win in their hands.

This would not be that game for the Raiders. After taking a brief 7-5 lead, the Zips pushed right past the Raiders’ man to man defense and dragged the score up. By halftime, the score was 35-23 in the Zips favor. Led by Ali Ali, the Zips were able to take advantage of a weak-looking Raiders squad that seemed out of sync at all turns. My mind thinks back to two different possessions where the Raiders on offense were simply not moving around to help free up a ball stuck in the dribbler’s hands, and a fast break opportunity for the Zips that went completely unfettered despite four other Raiders moving around nearby. The game ended in a disappointing 66-48 loss.

This contest was the second contest since Coach Nagy had taken up position at Wright State that ended with a showing of less than 50 points, with the last one coming from Tennessee in the 2018 NCAA tournament. Aggression was the goal of the game, but it was instead turned into clumsiness as the Zips out-rebounded and outplayed the Raiders.

Tennessee Tech was the Raiders’ next chance to get a much needed win. The Golden Eagles were searching for a win as much as the Raiders were, struggling with their early season match ups and only having two non-D1 wins during non-conference. Wright State was probably Tech’s best shot at earning a win; most of the Golden Eagles opponents were heavy hitters.

The game itself was uncomfortably close from tip off with the Raiders going back and forth with the Eagles and trading long point runs. Knotted up at halftime at 33-32, the Raiders then used an impressive defensive effort to hold the Golden Eagles to 2 points while gaining 23 of their own, sealing the game away for good. The Raiders finally had their first home win of the season against the OVC’s Tennessee Tech with a score of 72-63.

The final non-conference game was going to be the biggest test for Wright State. NC State’s Wolfpack of the ACC was waiting down in Raleigh for the Raiders in the hopes of turning their own season around. The Wolfpack had taken two straight losses, one to Purdue and the other to Richmond, and were hoping to reset against their Horizon League opponent. They also just came off an NCAA decision not to give them a postseason ban following a scandal by an assistant.

Wright State’s big men came into the game and dominated the agile Wolfpack from the post, knocking down shot after shot to keep themselves in the game at halftime 37-38. After an early stall out led to the Raiders taking a double digit lead, the squad clamped down on defense and took advantage of open passing lanes to Basile and Braun to hold the Wolfpack to 38% shooting, and took the game away from their Power 5 opponent 84-70.

There was a lot to love about these Raiders during these games, and a lot that should still be actively improved.

The highest highs – Basile and Holden are still the best 1-2 punch in the league. These two often combine to lead the Raider offense and provide the squad two ways to score baskets that are hard to defend against. When combined with Calvin and Braun, whose play styles are similar in scope to the team leaders, they can often combine to form an attack that prove hard to beat. This was the most evident at NC State where the Wolfpack’s lack of post presence allowed Basile to have a twenty point night, and after the Wolfpack decided to start collapsing in on the big man, Holden and Calvin were able to get shots from their positions of choice.

Keaton Norris and James Manns got to flash some of their brilliance in the game against Tennessee Tech. Norris is an incredibly smart basketball player on the floor, able to draw fouls and take shots when necessary. Against the Eagle, he was 2-3 from backcourt and only took the shot when it was wide open for him. He also drew a critical charging foul against Tennessee Tech to give possession back to the Raiders in the final minutes, sealing the game for good. James Manns got to come into the game for a few minutes and made immediate impact with shooting behind the arc and quick maneuvers.

NC State’s game showed a squad that was able to maneuver together with passing plays and take advantage of open opportunities, like when NC State failed to fully cover on a full court press and Finke made an easy dunk as a result. The win against NC State is the second win in five years for Nagy against the ACC, an impressive feat against one of the Power conferences of the NCAA.

The lowest lows – Akron’s game was legitimately the worst I have ever seen the Raiders. When this team is out of sync with itself, it’s very disrupting to the entire system. A lack of ball movement and simple zone defense during the game allowed easy turnovers for the Zips. Zone defense has always seemed to puzzle the Raiders offense and has accounted for a few of their losses so far. A lack of defensive pressure allowed the Zips to penetrate the paint with the dribble on a suspect man-to-man defense. Rebounds felt non-existent as the Raiders had a -11 turnover ratio, something that is unfortunately more typical than it should be. It felt like a total collapse, all resulting in Holden and Basile just barely keeping their double digit scoring streak alive. It’s hard to attribute this showing to just a bad day for the squad as they struggled against similar competition.

I’m still holding out hope that Tim Finke can turn his 3 point performance around, and I know he’s looking for it to change as well. Going 2-12 during this weeks match ups from the three point line is not a stat you hope to see out of Finke, and I know he’s been visibly frustrated with his performance as well. Three point shooting aside, Finke has been consistently good at pulling in defensive rebounds and has started to find his footing again with jumpers from difficult spots.

While the bench has provided some assistance to the squad, it has largely been a quiet showing. It feels like the depth isn’t present for the Raiders this year as the bench did not contribute more than 15 points across all 3 competitions. I’ve mentioned earlier how this squad needed someone to step up to fill the fifth slot in the roster back when the Raiders were struggling, but now it truly needs their sixth man. Allowing the starters to average 38 minutes of game clock time is not going to be feasible down the stretch when other squads are able to get reliable points from the bench, such as Tennessee Tech’s White Jr. who scored more points than the starters.

The Raiders begin Horizon League competition with Milwaukee and Green Bay at home on December 30th and January 1st respectively.

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