Wright State coach Scott Nagy was blown away by the outpouring of love and admiration that came his way after reaching 500 career wins at Cleveland State on Saturday.
Some of his five adult children put uplifting messages about him on Twitter. And his assistants did a video compilation of past players and colleagues — including Lou Henson, the 88-year-old former Illinois coach who gave Nagy his first job — expressing their congratulations.
But perhaps the most surprising tribute was what second-year Vikings coach Dennis Gates did after the overtime loss to the Raiders. He asked Nagy to join him and his team at center court, made an announcement about the feat to the fans and then gave him the game ball.
“I texted him the next day and said I know he hates to lose and I hate to lose, and I’m not sure I could’ve done that,” he said. “For him to do that was a pretty cool deal.”
But Nagy, who has a 500-282 record in 25 years, emerged from the weekend feeling more frustrated than feted. The Raiders (24-6, 14-3) dropped an 88-70 decision at Youngstown State and then squandered a five-point lead in the final three minutes of regulation against CSU before regrouping in OT.
The split allowed them to clinch a share of the Horizon League title — and they can claim the program’s first outright crown by winning at Northern Kentucky (21-8, 13-4) on Friday — but they’ve taken a noticeable step back in one important facet of the game.
They were out-rebounded 43-24 by the Penguins and 43-32 by the Vikings.
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The only other team to beat them by doubledigits on the boards was Indiana State on Dec. 7.
“We’re not playing very good,” Nagy said. “Physically, we got manhandled. We were beat on the glass like I haven’t seen in a long time.
“I feel like we’ve lost some of our edge. We’re trying to work in practice to get some of that back.”
After winning the battle of the boards in 14 of their first 18 games, they’ve been out-rebounded in seven of their last 12.
They gave up a combined 31 offensive rebounds in the two-game Northeast Ohio swing while grabbing only 12, including zero in the first half against CSU.
“We’re probably not practicing as hard as we should. We’re trying to get back to that,” the coach said.
Nagy believes his players are feeling some pressure in trying to close out the conference race and win the league tournament.
The sentiment around the Raiders is they not only can reach the NCAA tourney, but advance. And those expectations can become burdensome.
“Sometimes, I watch us play and think, ‘This doesn’t make any sense.’ And that’s almost always pressure,” he said. “People just react to it differently. They either look like they don’t care when they really, really care. Or they play tight.
“I really didn’t address it as we went through (last) week, and I probably should have.”
The Raiders were the preseason league favorites and grabbed a hefty lead in the standings by winning nine of their first 10 games.
But they’ve lost two of their last seven, and they’ve been tested more than expected in some of their wins.
“It’s a different kind of deal when you have the lead vs. chasing somebody,” Nagy said. “We’ve kind of had that all year. Sometimes we’ve done well with it. Other times, we haven’t.”
But some of the issue is their lack of size, apart from the 6-9 Loudon Love.
“We’re not a real physical team. We’re not big. We start four guards. We don’t have a lot of imposing players,” Nagy said.
“But before (the dip), we were getting it done. We were flying around. And we’re just not doing that right now.”
Wright State (24-6, 14-3) at Northern Kentucky (21-8, 13-4), 7 p.m., ESPNU, 106.5
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