Wright State’s Cole Darling stood in the center of the court as his teammates warmed up for the Horizon League championship game Tuesday at Valparaiso.
The junior forward, the team’s leading scorer, was never far from the action during the tournament, but in some ways he was far removed because of the foot injury that caused him to miss the last seven games, including the 62-54 loss to Valparaiso on Tuesday.
Having to sit and watch “wasn’t fun at all,” Darling said. “But I’m proud of them and the way they played this whole tournament. The things we’ve had go wrong this season with injuries, going through adversity, we really bounced back. Being picked to finish last and finishing the way we did, it shows a lot.”
The fact that the Raiders were minutes away from winning the tournament and going to the NCAA tournament — they led by six with 5;37 to play — also says a lot. They did it without Darling, the only Raider who earned all-league honors, and without Chrishawn Hopkins, a transfer from Butler who could be one of the team’s top players next year when he starts playing in January.
“He’s going to add a lot at the guard spot,” Darling said. “He’s really athletic. He can shoot the ball. He’s going to be dynamic.”
The Raiders lose no seniors, so they could begin the season as the preseason favorite to win the league.
“We’ll be very versatile again,” Darling said. “We’ll have all the guys returning. We’ll be an older team. We didn’t have a lot of experience in these type of games, but we played great. We’ll take everything from these games this year, the ones we won and the the ones we lost, and take them into next year and know how to finish games.”
Wright State finished the season 21-12 but could play in one of the postseason tournaments, possibly the CollegeInsider.com tournament or College Basketball Invitational. Coach Billy Donlon said he would discuss that possibility with his players when they got home Wednesday.
If this is the end of the 2012-13 season, that just means it’s the beginning next season. AJ Pacher, who will be one of five seniors next season, said the success of this year’s team was built in the offseason.
“It depends on how we work,” he said. “When (the offseason transfers) left us, that’s when we worked hard. We always talk about how championships aren’t won on paper. Neither are last place team’s. We worked our tail off. We’ll have to do the same even if we are picked high. I’m sure we will be picked high, but it really doesn’t matter because we still have to work hard.”