First-place Raiders aim to solve Morse code

11:07 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 Sports
Wright State’s Grant Benzinger guards Youngstown State’s Cameron Morse in a game at the Nutter Center last season. KEITH COLE/CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

After beating defending Horizon League champion Northern Kentucky on Thursday to improve to 5-0 in conference play for the first time in school history, Wright State will have its eyes set on another first Monday afternoon at the Nutter Center:

Slowing Cameron Morse.

The Youngstown State guard has averaged 24.5 points in his four games against the Raiders, including a 35-point explosion in the most recent meeting last February.

“I voted him for league MVP; I think he’s that good,” WSU coach Scott Nagy said of Morse, a 6-foot-2 senior. “Not only can he score, he’s a tremendous passer and he makes good decisions. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense.”

›› Everything you need to know about Monday’s game against Youngstown State

Morse and the Penguins (5-13, 3-2) started slowly due to a meat-grinder of a non-league schedule that included Butler, DePaul and Indiana.

But YSU comes into the rare 4 p.m. weekday game against the Raiders (13-5, 5-0) ranked No. 2 in the HL in scoring offense (82.0) in conference games (82.0) behind Morse’s 20.8-point average.

Complicating matters for Wright State will be the expected absence of senior guard Justin Mitchell for the second game in a row. Mitchell, who has a lot of experience guarding Morse, has asked for time away from the team due to personal reasons.

›› 5 things to know about WSU win at NKU

“We’d like to have him with us,” Nagy said. “For personal reasons he said he needed some time away from the court, so we’re giving him that.”

Nagy said he doesn’t know how long the team will be without Mitchell but doesn’t expect him to be back for Youngstown State, saying “probably no way.”

Mitchell ranks second in scoring (11.1) and rebounding (7.1) on a team that already uses a thin rotation.

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That’s why a few minutes after moving into sole possession of first place with the 84-81 win at NKU – one which featured a season-high 31 points from Grant Benzinger, a double-double from Loudon Love and several clutch plays down the stretch by Cole Gentry, Mark Hughes and Everett Winchester – Nagy spent time in a postgame interview praising the contributions of a guy who played seven minutes and scored one point

“The seven minutes Tye Wilburn played were big minutes for us,” Nagy said of the junior guard. “Most people aren’t going to understand that, but when we’re playing just seven guys, three off them freshmen, our coaching staff understands it.”

Like Mitchell, Wilburn’s playing time decreased when Gentry became eligible in December following his transfer from South Dakota State.

›› ARCHDEACON: Wright State has a force in Love

Prior to Thursday, Wilburn had played a total of one minute in the seven games since Gentry entered the mix.

Now with Mitchell away from the team indefinitely, Wilburn is going to be counted on more, starting today when he could find himself matched at times against one of the best guards in the league. And Nagy said he won’t hesitate to use him.

“We for sure need him,” Nagy said. “The thing I’m most of proud of is he went several games where he didn’t play at all. But he just came to practice every day, he keeps working hard, he keeps doing whatever you ask him to do.

“Had he gotten discouraged when Cole came in and he didn’t play at all, then it would be hard for us to play him now because his mind wouldn’t be right,” Nagy continued. “But he kept his mind right and now he’s getting this opportunity and he’ll make the most of it.”

›› Raiders, Gentry take alternate path to huge road win

And Nagy is hoping the Raiders, who have won six in a row, also make the most of their only chance to play at home in a stretch of 20 days and six games.

“To win championships, you have to be really good on the road and then you need to take care of your home games,” Nagy said.