Wright State coach Scott Nagy was able to get his players to buy into his defense-first approach last season, which is why they stormed to the Horizon League title and reached the NCAA tourney.
But after back-to-back losses in the Cancun Challenge, Nagy feels as if he’s starting from scratch.
The Raiders were nipped by SMU, 77-76, in the third-place game Wednesday — despite shooting 50 percent from the field, going 14-of-27 on 3-pointers and racking up 21 assists while committing just 10 turnovers.
The Mustangs shot 55.6 percent, made 10-of-21 three-pointers and notched the game-winning points on a Jimmy Whitt jumper with 4.4 seconds left.
The Raiders allowed Penn State to shoot 58 percent in the semifinals of the upper-tier Riviera Division in Mexico.
“Our defense just isn’t any good,” Nagy said on his post-game radio show. “The offense is not the problem. There’s 350 teams in Division-I basketball, and we’ve got to be in the 300s in terms of what we’re giving up defensively.”
Loudon Love had 19 points and 14 rebounds for his second straight double-double. Cole Gentry had 14 points and seven assists, while Mark Hughes had 14 points, Parker Ernsthausen a season-high 12 and Alan Vest a career-high 11 (all in the first half).
Vest, a senior from Chaminade-Julienne, had scored just eight points in the first five games and 11 all of last season.
The teams traded blows over the final two minutes. After the Mustangs took a 73-70 lead with 1:55 to go, Gentry drove to a bucket to cut the margin to one.
After a defensive stop, the Raiders (3-3) had four shots on their next possession before finally connecting when Love followed his own miss for a put-back and a 74-73 lead with 30 seconds left.
Whitt scored for the Mustangs (3-3), but Hughes was fouled with 10.7 seconds left and converted a one-and-one for a 76-75 edge.
Whitt then swished a baseline pull-up, and Gentry could only get off a hurried 3-pointer that bounced off the rim as time expired.
“He hit some tough shots against us,” Nagy said of Whitt, “but why is everyone so comfortable against us? Our defensive is just not any good. And to be honest, I’m baffled by it.
“We’re just going to have to make some changes. We’re going to have to find different people who are committed to that more than anything else.”
Jahmal McMurray scored 27 points with seven 3-pointers for SMU, which trailed by 10 in the first half and by eight midway through the second half.
The Raiders, who made 25-of-45 three-pointers in the two games, have a long history of playing in holiday tournaments. They hosted their own multi-team event the last two seasons, going 4-0 in each.
They had less success when playing as someone else’s guest from 2010-15. They went 2-2 in the Northern Illinois Showcase, 1-2 in the Spartanburg Marriott Upstate tourney, 2-2 in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, 1-2 in the Utah Thanksgiving Tournament, 1-3 in the Global Sports Shootout and 2-2 in the Chicago Invitational Challenge.
The best showing in program history came at the 2008 San Juan Shootout under coach Brad Brownell when they knocked off Oral Roberts, South Florida and Murray State in Puerto Rico to win the crown.
Thank you for reading the Springfield News-Sun and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to exclusive deals and newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Springfield News-Sun. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.