FAIRBORN — Wright State players probably dreaded going to their first practice this week, figuring after two straight losses they could count on getting picked apart by the staff and pushed to exhaustion.
And if effort were an issue, coach Scott Nagy might have been inclined to take that approach. But he knows the Raiders are giving their all.
They’ve stumbled to an uncharacteristic 11-10 record and 4-6 mark in the Horizon League, but what’s happening so far isn’t a mystery: They’re just getting beat by better teams
The way Nagy sees it, what’s the point in berating your players when they already feel bad enough?
“If we’re just loving our kids when they win, then we’re not better than anybody else. Where they really need love is now because they’re hurting. As coaches, that’s what we’re called to do,” he said.
“How that looks is different (with each team). Sometimes, it’s being kicked in the rear. Sometimes, it’s being hugged. Usually, when they think they’re going to be kicked, they need to be hugged. And when they think they’re going to be hugged, they need to be kicked.”
Not that Nagy is happy with the results — or that he’s going to throttle back on the intensity.
The Raiders have won at least 11 league games in each of his first six years and at least 20 games overall in five of six years (they finished 18-6 in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21).
They’ll need a strong finishing kick to get there again
“In my opinion, we’ve got some guys playing nervous, and they’ve got to cut it out,” he said. “We need to get rid of fear. There’s nothing to be afraid of. This isn’t life and death. It’s basketball.”
The jangled nerves seem to be surfacing mostly in front of friendly audiences. The Raiders are 4-6 at home and 7-4 in road games and at neutral sites.
In Nagy’s six previous seasons, they were 76-17 at the Nutter Center and 55-46 everywhere else.
“It’s unusual. They play more nervous at home than they do on the road. That’s the thing that’s been bizarre to me,” Nagy said.
“We’ve obviously done very well (at home) since I’ve been here, but this year has been a mess.”
The Raiders have just four regular-season home games remaining.
They haven’t had a losing record at the Nutter Center since going 5-8 in 2014-15 and finishing 11-20 overall.
“It does seem like on the road we come out with a different kind of fire. I feel like we have a lot of energy going into those games,” said forward Brandon Noel, who is second on the team in scoring (13.9) and first in rebounding (8.1).
“It seems like at home, in front of our crowds, we come out with a stale start. I don’t know why, but it’s not a good feeling. And I know the fans don’t enjoy it, either.”
Performance anxiety may be an issue. And playing with lower expectations on the road sometimes allows teams to cut loose.
But the Raiders’ woes may not be entirely mental.
“You look a lot of these teams, and they’re old,” Nagy said. “This whole Covid thing (getting a fifth year of eligibility) and having transfers has made them very old, almost pros.
“We’re starting a freshman and sophomore. We have some older guys, too, but our team is just less experienced.”
No footwear: Nagy prowled the sidelines barefooted against Cleveland State on Saturday to raise awareness for the Christian ministry Samaritan’s Feet.
The organization provides shoes for impoverished children around the world.
“I got involved with it because of our (adopted) daughter from Haiti,” said Nagy, who has gone shoeless for one game the last 16 years.
Daughter Naika has grown up in the Nagy household and is getting ready to turn 19.
“I like doing it because I love the organization. I think they do great things. If I can bring attention from one person to it — maybe they’ll look at their website — then that’s good for them.”
Getting healthy: C.J. Wilbourn played just one game this season before being shut down because of an undisclosed injury. But Nagy said the 6-foot-7 post is ready to go again.
He appeared in 33 games with six starts last season after transferring from Milwaukee, which visits the Raiders on Thursday.
He was a league all-freshman team pick in 2020 for the Panthers.
Milwaukee at Wright State, 7 p.m., ESPN+, 980
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