Even though Wright State makes a trip to Green Bay every year, there will be an unfamiliar feel Thursday night when the Raiders step into the Resch Center.
“We’ve been hunting for so long and all of a sudden we’ve become the hunted,” said WSU coach Scott Nagy, whose Raiders (14-5) are riding a seven-game winning streak that has them standing alone atop the Horizon League at 6-0.
“There’s a different feel to it,” Nagy added. “There’s a pressure that goes along with that, and being able to accept that pressure and have the maturity to deal with it.”
The Raiders haven’t ended a regular season in first place since 2006-07, when they finished tied with Butler, and they’ve never won a regular-season title outright.
But there’s a long way to go before the 2018 standings are finalized, beginning with the longest conference road trip of the year beginning Thursday night against Wisconsin-Green Bay (8-13, 3-5).
The Phoenix have struggled of late, losing five of their last six. But Green Bay always has been a tough place for Wright State. The Raiders have lost four in a row and five of six at the Resch Center, including a 78-61 blowout last season.
“We were awful last year on the road at Green Bay,” Nagy said. “In terms of league games, it was probably the worst we played all year.”
It’s almost a completely new Green Bay team after the Phoenix lost eight of their top nine scorers from a year ago. But it’s still the same frenetic offense coach Linc Darner used to lead Green Bay to a league championship and NCAA Tournament berth in his first season in 2016.
“They play fast,” Nagy said. “Their length of possession is the fifth shortest in the country, so that tells you they play fast and shoot the ball quickly. With us only playing seven guys in double-figure minutes, that will be a challenge because they play nine. So their depth will be a problem for us.”
Guard Khalil Small leads Green Bay at 17.3 points per game, while Sandy Cohen averages 16.8 after scoring a career-high 29 Monday in a 99-92 overtime win against Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
The responsibility for slowing down the Phoenix will fall as much on the Wright State offense as its defense, Nagy said.
“The most important thing is to shoot a high percentage, which means take good shots,” he said. “If you take bad shots and rushed shots, or fast possessions without really making them guard, then you just give them opportunities. Because if you don’t make them, they’re just going to run out and you’re going to have a hard time getting matchups.”
While the Raiders have built confidence with a seven-game winning streak, they know any one of those games could have gone the other way. Their average margin of victory over that stretch is 5.9 points, and even Monday’s 77-67 victory against Youngstown State was a battle with the Penguins leading by as many as five midway through the second half.
“Almost every game we play is a close game because we don’t have the kind of team with the kind of talent to just blow people out,” Nagy said. “So we have to do a lot of things right. The details are important. Our guys are working hard. They pay attention and do what we ask them to do and trust the coaching staff.
“The best thing we’ve done overall is when games have gotten tight in the second half, we’ve been really good in the last four or five minutes, whether it be on the defensive end or taking good shots, getting to the foul line,” he continued. “In close game situations, our guys have really executed well.”
Wright State at Green Bay, 8 p.m., ESPN3, 106.5