“It’s a tough balance as a coach,” Nagy said on his postgame radio show. “I am not interested in being happy with losing a basketball game. I have no interest in that. And I don’t want to coach anyone who is. But it’s still commendable how hard our kids are playing. We’re in a lot of close games, and we’re not winning them, and we’ve got to get that figured out.”
Nagy’s scheduling strategy is to catch top teams on the road near Christmas break, knowing their students have already left campus and their players probably are longing for home. And it almost worked again.
Wright State, which is 2-33 all-time against current Power-5 conference teams, pulled within 43-42 on a Wampler 3 with 12:59 to go. Mississippi State (11-1) then went on a 10-0 run, but the Raiders weren’t done.
Another Wampler 3 cut the lead to 55-52 with 7:11 left, forcing Mississippi State to burn a timeout.
Ernsthausen then hit a 3 from the top of the key to make it 55-all.
The deficit was one after Ernsthausen made a pair of free throws with 2:25 to go. But a Tyson Carter jumper made it 62-59, and then the Raiders’ Cole Gentry missed a drive, and Wampler couldn’t connect on a put-back.
After a Bulldog turnover, Wampler made the front end of a one-and-one but missed the second with 53.6 seconds left. All-SEC guard Quinndary Weatherspoon, who had a team-high 14 points, then made two free throws and, after Gentry missed a drive, Lamar Peters made two more for a 66-60 lead with 21.8 seconds left.
Wampler then missed a 3, ending the drama.
“Like I told the guys, ‘Compete in the first half like we did in the second, and you probably win the game,’” Nagy said. “But we had balls hit us in the hand. We just did things that were uncharacteristic. It was like, ‘Do you believe or not?’
“I’ve done this enough to know what it looks like when a team believes. We saw it in the second half. But in the first half we were questioning.
“I’m back to where I was last year: I have to convince these guys they’re better than they’re playing. They are. My frustration is I believe more in them than they believe in themselves.”
UIC at Wright State, 7 p.m., ESPN2, 106.5