The 82-77 loss to Northern Kentucky in the Horizon League tournament quarterfinals wasn’t the result Wright State coach Scott Nagy desired, but the reaction of his players – manifested in the red, tear-swollen eyes of junior guard Justin Mitchell during the postgame press conference – was exactly what he wanted to see.
“This is what living feels like,” Nagy said Sunday night after the loss at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. “Because most people never pour their hearts into something like a basketball team. And sometimes it is unbelievably exhilarating, and sometimes it is incredibly painful. There’s no in between.
“See most people just live in between,” he continued. “When you’re really living and when you really pour your heart into something and you believe and you fight and scrap and you don’t get it and it hurts really bad, that’s what living feels like. I would rather they do that the rest of their life, whatever their passions are. Pour their hearts into it, but don’t protect yourself.”
Wright State finished the season 20-12, with one of those wins coming against league co-champion Oakland and another versus defending tournament champ Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Here are five things to know about Nagy’s first year at WSU:
The Raiders averaged 77 points per game, the program’s highest mark in 25 seasons, when the 1992-93 squad put up 89.1.
Their 285 3-pointers were a school record, topping the 256 last year’s squad made. The 784 attempts also were the most in program history, besting the 687 tried last year.
Junior guard Grant Benzinger made 78 treys, good for fourth in WSU history, to give him 199 for his career, breaking the school record of 197, which originally was set in 1994 by Andy Holderman and later tied by Todd Brown in 2010.
Wright State excelled at the free throw line, setting a school record for highest single-season percentage at .761, making 546 of 715 attempts.
The Raiders, who eclipsed the previous record of .750 that had stood since 1975-76, rank 21st in the nation in team free-threw percentage.
Benzinger led the way at .848 (67 of 79), while Mark Alstork shot 846, making 33 in a row last month on the way to breaking the single-season school record with 176 (of 208). The previous mark of 160 was set in 2003-04 by Vernard Hollins.
Lacking a true point guard, Nagy handed control of the offense to Justin Mitchell, who filled the stat sheet nearly every night, including Feb. 11 when he recorded the third triple-double in school history with 14 points, 11 rebounds a career-high 10 assists in a win against Green Bay.
Many believed the junior guard deserved a spot on the all-league team after finishing second in assists (4.7), third in rebounds (8.9) and 21st in scoring (12.2).
“Justin did an unbelievable job all year,” Nagy said. “He was second in the league in assists this year and he is not a point guard. We played him out of position all year and he’s done a fantastic job. He’s been overlooked by most people just because he doesn’t score 17 points a game.”
Mitchell’s 267 rebounds this year are fourth most on the school’s single-season list.
Asked a few weeks ago about how meaningful it would be to win 20 games, Nagy said he’d rather win 21 than 20 and 22 would be better than 21.
But the 20-win mark has long stood as the demarcation for a successful season, and this year’s group was the first WSU team to get to 20 in the regular season since 2007-08.
And Nagy became the second coach to reach the mark in his first year on the job since in Wright State’s 30 seasons as a Division I program, joining Brad Brownell (23-10 in 2006-07).
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In addition to returning three of their top four rebounders and scorers, the Raiders will add the coveted big body in the post they were lacking this year in Loudon Love, a 6-foot-9, 300-pound freshman who redshirted this season. Everett Winchester, a 6-6 guard, also redshirted as a freshman.
“We made a decision early in the year to redshirt a couple of freshmen that would have had an impact for us this year, but we also had to think about the future,” Nagy said. “So we left ourselves a little short there.”
Among the leading candidates to step into the role as point guard are Tyler Mitchell, a recruit from Kings High School, and Cole Gentry, a freshman who has followed Nagy from South Dakota State as a transfer.