Wright State basketball: Nagy wants his players to stay even-keeled in tourney

Wright State's Tanner Holden goes in for a dunk during the second half against Cleveland State at the Nutter Center on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

caption arrowCaption
Wright State's Tanner Holden goes in for a dunk during the second half against Cleveland State at the Nutter Center on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

FAIRBORN — Scott Nagy doesn’t profess to be an expert on surviving pressure-packed conference tourneys.

The win-and-advance-or-lose-and-go-home facet of those events can make even the most experienced teams tight.

But having gotten through four of them to reach the NCAA tourney — three at South Dakota State and once at Wright State — he’s found the best way to handle the high stakes is, well, to not think about the high stakes.

“What it takes, in those moments when things aren’t going well, is to not panic,” he said.

The fourth-seeded Raiders play top-seeded Cleveland State at 7 p.m. Monday in the Horizon League semifinals, and things inevitably won’t go well at times. But the key, to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, is to keep your head while all around you are losing theirs.

“My last year at South Dakota State, in the second half, we were down 13 in the semifinals to Denver. And Denver played slower than EVERYBODY. If you’re down 13 to Denver, it’s like being down 30,” Nagy said.

“Somehow, we came back. Our kids didn’t panic.”

The Jackrabbits trailed by 13 with five minutes to go in the 2016 Summit League tourney. They took a one-point lead on a free throw with two seconds left — and then made a major gaffe by fouling with 1.2 seconds to go.

Fortunately for them, Denver didn’t convert the 1-and-1, propelling the Jackrabbits to the finals.

They beat North Dakota State and then played Maryland in the NCAA first round, pushing the Terps to the limit in a 79-74 loss.

That was their third NCAA trip in five years, and if not for their success that season, the Raiders might not have found their winningest coach (percentage-wise) in the Division-I era.

But while Nagy constantly vents to his assistants throughout games, he can manage himself well enough to be a calming influence on his players.

“I get to this time of year, and I relax. I really do. I’m probably the most relaxed I am during the year — because I know we’ve put the hay in the barn,” he said.

“I tell the players, ‘This is your team. These are your practices. This is your shoot-around. You don’t even need to hear my voice anymore. Let it just be your voice.’”

“Our kids did it (against Oakland). They didn’t need to hear anybody else.”

Down 14 in the second half in the HL quarterfinals, the Raiders went on an improbable 20-0 run to take control and advance to Indy with a 75-63 win over the Grizzlies.

“We’ve got good players. That’s the best part about it — great kids,” Nagy said. “This has been an incredibly enjoyable team for me because we don’t have one player that drains me, where, every day, I’ve got to worry about this kid and his attitude.

“I’ve had those in the past. There’s not one player on the team like that.”

He laughed and then added, “It’s by design.”

If the Raiders need more motivation than being two wins away from an NCAA bid, they have the revenge factor on their side.

They’ve lost twice to the Vikings, including a 71-67 home loss that included an unsightly 26 turnovers. That’s the most in at least the program’s last 16 years (online season stats only go back to 2006-07, and the school does no record-keeping on turnovers).

“Obviously, we had two tough ones,” forward Grant Basile said. “The first one, we were up and ended up blowing the lead. In the second one, we had 26 turnovers at home, and we were in the game.

“We just have to stick to our principles and play hard. I think we’ve done a better job when we’ve faced some zones, so we’re excited to play them.”

The Raiders handled Oakland’s zone, at least when it came to protecting the ball.

They had just three turnovers. That’s the fewest in a game in at least 16 years.

Asked about the Vikings, Nagy said: “It’s not like we’re going, ‘Oh, we can’t wait to get a shot at them.’ They’re good. The thing that’s so hard to swallow is to have 26 turnovers here and lose by four points. You have 26 turnovers, and you’re going to have a hard time staying within 20 of anybody. We’ll have to do a better job.”

He feels as if they’re better equipped this time.

The hay is in the barn.

“We’re not unbelievable defensively, but we’re way better than we were. And it’s helped our offense. Earlier, we weren’t good at either,” he said.

MONDAY’S GAME

Wright State vs. Cleveland State, 7 p.m., ESPNU, 980

About the Author