Except for Loudon Love’s braids and top knot, Bill Wampler’s tattoos and a few other things, the Wright State Raiders are becoming a mirror image of their head coach, Scott Nagy.
With their 79-72 victory over Youngstown State Saturday night at the Nutter Center, the Raiders are 17-4 and off to their best start in the 33 years they’ve been a Division I program. Their 7-1 record in the Horizon League equals their best mark in 29 years of conference play.
Discussing his team’s success after Saturday’s victory, Nagy, characteristically, took a glass-half-empty view for a while before admitting later, “I know I’m sitting here acting like we’re 4-17.
“But I’ve always said, ‘I like winning, but I HATE losing.’ I hate how it makes me feel and I want to be around people who’ll do whatever they have to – within the rules – not to lose.”
In 25 years as a head coach at South Dakota State and Wright State, he‘s won 63.8 percent of his games (483-280) and that includes his four seasons with the Raiders, where he has 67.5 winning percentage (83-40).
Asked what he’s like when he loses, he managed a smile: ”Aaah, you might be better off to ask my wife. I’m amazed I’ve been married 27 years to be honest with you. And I’ve been coaching in all of them and I’ve lost enough games in there.
“She’s super patient with me and gives me space. Not to feel sorry by myself because I’m not interested in that. But it brings a focus to me and I want to bring it to my players.”
His players have a similar distaste of losing, which, since Dec. 7, they have done just once — a 76-72 upset at UIC on Jan. 12.
“That was what, our fourth loss?” said Raiders center Loudon Love. “But for that to be so upsetting to people here tells you something. I knew (with) Coach, it upset him a lot and it trickled down from the older guys on the team to the younger guys.
“Everyone was upset. No one was happy.”
Love said that reaction wasn’t always the case with the Raiders in the past.
“When I was just starting out here, it was more of – I wouldn’t say it was a mediocre standard – but it was just that there were some guys who were OK with losing.
“That’s not acceptable now. The culture of the team has progressed. There’s a high-success standard now.”
This year’s glorious start is getting overshadowed in the area some by the crosstown Dayton Flyers, who are 16-2, ranked No. 13 and could move into the Associated Press top 10 on Monday. They’ve made a national splash and locally every game has sold out with crowds of 13,400-plus.
“Being in the top 25 is pretty impressive,” said Love, who knows none of the Flyers players. “They’re playing really well.
“In years past there’s always been an argument, the stigma around us, that they’re just the better team because of their conference and everything. This year we’re both doing well and there’s no way of truly finding out about how we’d do.”
The two teams played eight times in the past and WSU won three of those games. Unfortunately, they haven’t played since 1997. Since then each school — just 9.4 miles apart — has gone about building its own program.
And under Nagy the Raiders have won more than in any other 3-½ season span in the school’s Division I history.
“The bar has definitely been raised,” Love said.
But such lofty expectations have made some victories less than satisfying
When Wright State stopped Cleveland State 75-62 last week, there were times the team struggled and even Nagy was surprised when he walked in the postgame dressing room.
“He said it was like he walked into a morgue,” said Jim Brown, the color analyst on Raiders’ radio broadcasts and a WSU Hall of Famer for his 27 seasons as an assistant and head coach with the program. “He said he had to remind them, ‘Guys we just beat a Division I team.’”
Saturday night the Raiders were, in Nagy’s words. “a bit of a mess.” They didn’t shoot well, were outrebounded and looked tired. But once again they found a way to win.
One reason was just six turnovers.
Another was veteran players stepping up down the stretch.
With WSU clinging to a 73-68 lead with 1:17 left, Youngstown State’s Garrett Covington got a wide open jump shot in the lane. At the last second, Love leaped and blocked the shot. The Raiders recovered the ball and 30 seconds later, tenacious point guard Cole Gentry outmaneuvered his defender and hit a three pointer.
“The sign of a good team is when you can win a game and not play your best,” Nagy said.
Love finished with 21 points and nine rebounds, Gentry had 11 points, and fellow senior Wampler had 16 points, 10 in the last 11:43 of the game.
Love said the mindset starts with the team’s older players, himself, Gentry, Wampler, Jordan Ash and Aleksandar Dozic: “These are all guys coach recruited or who came in here because the want to win now and that’s passed on to the younger players.”
The attitude is fostered by Nagy said Love, who often finds himself in the coach’s crosshairs, as he did Saturday night.
Nagy got on him at halftime for only having three rebounds and not finishing around the rim.
“That’s just typical Coach Nagy, he expects greatness out of you,” Love shrugged.
But Brown said it’s more than just the influence of the head coach:
“Scott is a great coach, but I can’t say enough about his assistants. Those guys are sharp. They know the game and are good teachers and they can recruit.
“They all came from South Dakota with Scott and that’s the one thing that concerned me when they first took over. They didn’t know anybody in the Dayton area and hadn’t recruited anybody here.
“But they’ve done a phenomenal job. They got a great young kid from Wheelersburg (Tanner Holden had 13 rebounds Saturday.) They got a guy from Cleveland (redshirt Andre Harris) and Jaylon Hall’s from Louisville.”
While they did lose one regional player – Skyelar Potter from Kentucky just transferred to Morehead State – they have done a good job molding the players who have bought in. And none more so than the 6-foot-8 Love.
He came from Geneva, Ill. four years ago still hobbled from a knee surgery and weighing 320 pounds. He redshirted his first year and last season weighed 280 and was a first team All- Horizon League selection.
This season he’s been as low as 256 and now leads the team in scoring (15.1) and rebounding (9.9)
On Saturday night – which was Military Appreciation Night and drew a season-high crowd of 5,474 to the Nutter Center – the Raiders wore their special white and gray camouflage uniforms in recognition of the occasion.
They wore the same uniforms at last year’s military appreciation event, but there was one exception.
“Last year I was wearing a 2X,” Love said as he reached down and turned over the tag on the bottom of his jersey. “I’d swim in that now.
“This one is just an XL and, actually, it’s a little big, too.”
Spoken like a true Raider these days:
Not satisfied unless things are perfect.
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