Wright State coach Scott Nagy isn’t accustomed to having a team that rarely gets easy baskets and struggles so much to score. The Raiders burned Georgia Tech from long range in an upset last week, but that was an anomaly.
They’re proving they can win, though, even without dazzling offense.
“In terms of just shooting, it’s one of the weaker teams we’ve had in a while. But it’s one of the best teams I’ve coached defensively, no question, in the last 10 years. We have some very good defenders. And I enjoy coaching those guys,” Nagy said.
The Raiders had another suffocating defensive effort in a 65-61 win over UIC before 3,397 fans in the Horizon League opener for both teams Thursday. They forced the visitors into 20 turnovers while committing just nine themselves.
That made up for a 32.8-percent shooting night — the ninth time in 14 games they’ve been held under 44 percent.
“A lot of times when we’re that bad offensively, we get discouraged. And then we have a hard time guarding like we should,” Nagy said. “But none of our kids got discouraged. They really fought hard. That’s a good win for us.”
Leading the way: Justin Mitchell scored 14 points and Mark Hughes 13 for the Raiders (9-5). Hughes was one of the few players with a hot hand, going 3-of-8 on 3-pointers.
“I was just playing free tonight. Coach (Nagy) tells us all the time, ‘Play free, no fear. And if you’ve got a good shot, take it.’ That’s what I was doing.”
Wrong guy: The Flames (5-9) scored with 28 seconds left to cut a four-point deficit to two, but they were forced to foul Grant Benzinger, a 94.6-percent free-throw shooter. He made both attempts with 7.9 seconds left to seal the win.
He had 11 points and a game-high 11 rebounds and was 6-for-6 on foul shots. He was sixth in the nation going into the game in free-throw accuracy and is now 41 for 43 (95.4 percent).
“My self-talk at the free-throw line is probably my best self-talk. Other than that, I’m pretty negative,” he said. “But when I’m at the free-throw line, I’m super positive, which is weird. I’m comfortable there. I just have to find a way to get there more often.”
Like father like son: Dick Nagy, the father of the Wright State coach, sat in the first row behind the bench and was a demonstrative Raider supporter, rarely staying in his seat. He was an assistant for 17 years at Illinois, making the Final Four in 1989.
“We had some veteran officials, and I was like, ‘Hey, just ignore my dad back there,’” Scott Nagy said, laughing. “They know him. He coached, so he knows a lot of those guys. They said hello to him.”
Showtime: Hughes has some hops. The 6-foot-3 junior had a thunderous transition dunk over a stunned Tai Odiase, UIC’s 6-9 center who was the league’s defensive player of the year last season. The Raider bench went berserk.
“I can’t really describe the feeling. If you’ve never done it, I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “But it’s a great feeling. I love the guys’ reaction. They’re probably more hyped than me. I do it more for them than me.”
National TV: The Raiders’ game at Detroit Mercy on Jan. 4 will tip off at 9 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPNU.
Wright State hosts IUPUI at 4 p.m. Saturday. The women’s team will play Milwaukee at 1:30 p.m. in the first game of the doubleheader.