FAIRBORN — Wright State University men’s basketball is in the midst of a key seven-out-of-nine-game home stand as they sit at 11-10 overall and 5-3 in the Horizon League. It was a victorious outcome by WSU on the road, Jan. 17, that could have significant bearing on a turnaround for the squad after an 8-10 start to the season beforehand.
After a sloppy first half defensively, WSU trailed Youngstown State 38-45. The Raiders were on the brink of digging a bigger hole in the HL standings with a possible 2-4 record if they ultimately lost.
After WSU coach Scott Nagy made his frustrations known during halftime, the team banded together and outscored the Penguins by 13 in the second half for the 80-74 victory. Freshman guard Malachi Smith helped spur the run with 17 points and nine rebounds, while scoring 11 in the final frame.
“We were struggling and coach (Nagy) got mad at halftime. He was just upset, because he knows what type of team we are and the potential we have,” Smith said. “In the locker room, we knew that we had to do this together, because he is not going to play for us. I felt like we needed that win. It just so happens that I was a spark, but it was a full team effort.”
“If Malachi wasn’t there, we wouldn’t have won. He was our leading scorer and rebounder, and to have him play like that — particularly in a game where a lot of our guys didn’t play very well — was really important,” Nagy said. “We know he is a good player. We were just waiting for something like that to happen, and it did.”
Despite feeling his team’s effort wasn’t quite up to par against YSU, Nagy says there was a positive with the result.
“Good teams can play poorly sometimes and scratch out a way to win a game,” Nagy said. “That is when you have great seasons. We have struggled a little more this year. I’m hoping we’ll turn the corner on the close-game deal.”
Smith had similar sentiments.
“Down the line, we’re going to face more adversity, but we can say we’ve experienced it plenty already. We have a lot of upperclassmen on our team, so we should be able to pull those games out.”
It was Smith’s strong outing that propelled him to be named HL Freshman of the Week. He credits the improvements he has made this season to a heightened level of belief in himself.
“I’ve been perfecting my craft every day; I’m more confident out there and know that I deserve to be out there,” Smith said.
After hearing about the accolade, Smith remained selfless.
“I didn’t know, but I felt blessed and honored. I’m not satisfied though,” Smith said. “I want to get better, and I’m not going to get too high and think that I’m this great player. I still have work to do and I honestly just want to keep doing what I can to help this team.”
During the WSU media session on Jan. 23, another team’s practice was taking place in the practice pavilion and a song that played was “All These Things That I’ve Done” by the rock band The Killers. One of the lyrics is “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier.”
The Raiders might not quite be the soldiers they want to be yet on the court, but they certainly appear to have some of the soul they’ll need moving forward with players like Smith stepping up.
Story by Alan Hieber, with WSU Athletics. Visit wsuraiders.com for more Raiders sports news.