Wright State basketball: Nagy pleased with turnaround but still has concerns

FAIRBORN — Wright State coach Scott Nagy knew the season was in danger of getting away from him during his team’s 2-7 start. And like the captain of a listing ship, he realized he had to project confidence and a sense of calm.

He’s not sure, though, how well he did when the job called for crisis management.

“I don’t know if I handled it very well, to be honest with you. It’s not something I’m used to dealing with. And the kids I’m coaching, it’s not something they’re used to dealing with,” he said.

“I think we just tried to focus on the things we know are important to our team.”

Whatever the Raiders did seemed to work. They’ve ripped off six wins in a row to improve to 8-7 overall and 5-1 in the Horizon League.

The streak includes an 84-70 stunner at North Carolina State on Dec. 21, and no one could have seen that coming. In their two previous games, they were dealt an 18-point home loss by Akron and needed a second-half rally to subdue visiting Tennessee Tech.

“We got off to a good start, No. 1, which we haven’t done in any of our league games since then,” Nagy said of beating the Wolfpack. “We’ve gotten off to some very slow, lethargic, not-a-lot-of-life-to-us starts. Playing a team like that, it gets your ready.

“Being on the road gets you ready, too. And catching them before Christmas (helped). They’re good. They’re so talented. But we were pretty good defensively that night, and, offensively, we were really good.”

Top programs should be leery of hosting Nagy’s teams just before Christmas. That’s one of his long-standing scheduling strategies, believing opposing arenas won’t be as lively with students home for the holidays, and players usually have one foot out the door, too.

“In my career, I can probably give you five or six games we’ve won like that right before Christmas,” he said.

His six-year stint with the Raiders includes another blockbuster win, an 85-81 shocker at Georgia Tech on Dec. 22, 2017.

Among his notable Yuletide upsets at South Dakota State were a 70-65 decision at New Mexico before 15,278 fans at the Pit, a 92-73 rout at Washington and a 65-58 victory at Iowa State.

Though the performance against the tradition-rich Wolfpack will forever be one of the program’s signature wins — N.C. State has beaten Nebraska and Virginia Tech this season while taking then-No. 1 Purdue to overtime before losing — it doesn’t mean all is well with the Raiders.

To Nagy, the six-game winning streak is somewhat deceptive.

“I think we’ve been fortunate to play some of these teams without their best players (because of COVID-19 absences). That’s part of it,” he said.

“Defensively, we’re not very good. We were under one point per possession against IUPUI (checking off one of the team’s goals), but they brought eight guys and were missing some of their people. We just haven’t been very good. We’re not playing hard. We’re not getting 50-50 balls.”

While Nagy will always have laser focus on areas that need improvement, he probably does have reason to be wary since the Raiders have faced a lighter schedule of late.

Their first seven opponents (excluding Division-II Lake Erie) had a combined 56-47 record through last weekend, while their last six foes were 23-60 going into the week.

“I’m not saying we’re not doing some good things,” he said. “Offensively, we’ve been pretty good. But defensively — and in things that are important to us like rebounding — we haven’t been good at all. I’m frustrated with it, and the team is frustrated with it.”

He added: “I know we’re 5-1 (in the league), and I’m talking like we’re 1-5. But we have to get things fixed because, if they continue, it’s definitely going to catch up to us.”

THURSDAY’S GAME

Wright State at Robert Morris, 7 p.m., ESPN+, 103.9

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