Wright State basketball: With Nagy’s prodding, defense finally coming around

FAIRBORN — Wright State coach Scott Nagy doesn’t really want to hear about how proficient his team is on offense.

Tell him that they’re averaging 80.4 points per game — which is 22nd in the nation — and he’ll sigh and quickly change the subject.

“I never worry about offense,” he said. “I know we can score.”

The reason for his confidence is how the Raiders replenish their roster each year.

“Our goal is to recruit good offensive players and let them play freely. Good offensive players generally aren’t great defenders. We don’t just go get athletes that will be unbelievable defenders. We get guys who can score — and then we spend all our time on defense,” he said.

That’s why the Raiders have put up prolific offensive numbers in his seven years — they averaged 82 points in 2020-21 and 80.6 per game in 2019-20 — and why it’s a constant battle for him to mold them into a solid defensive unit.

But 25 games into the season, and after an uncharacteristic 11 losses, Nagy is finally seeing the fruits of his labor.

“Defensively, we’re so much better now,” he said. “When we started, we were last in league play in defense, and we may be up to third now.”

Going by the metric Nagy relies on most, the Raiders are doing even better than that.

In defensive points per possession — which is a more accurate measure since it factors in pace of play — they’re second at .985 points allowed. Northern Kentucky is first at .976.

“A lot of it is being more mindful defensively, and we’re just more sharp,” Nagy said. “And rebounding is part of that, too.”

Redshirt freshman forward Brandon Noel is third in the Horizon League at 8.8 rebounds per game. But in conference games, he’s first with a 10.9 average.

Tim Finke is 10th at 6.3 overall, and his HL average is slightly better at 6.4.

Ending defensive possessions with a rebound eliminates second-chance points, which is critical.

“We’re so much better than we were in early December. We’re not even the same team right now,” Nagy said.

The Raiders have kept their last four foes under one point per possession, which is their goal.

That shows up in overall scoring, too. They held Robert Morris a tick below their 68.7 average in an 82-67 road win last week.

But Nagy had to resort to unconventional methods to make it happen, switching screens on defense.

“We pretty much switched everything, which is a little uncomfortable. It means guards guarding their posts, and our posts guarding their guards. But when they were here, they just got into such a rhythm, and we could not get them stopped,” he said, referring to an 80-59 home loss in December.

The Raiders aren’t necessarily equipped to do that since they have mostly undersized guards, and, apart from Noel, aren’t dripping with athleticism inside.

“Based on what we saw last time, we had to try something because they’re such a good offensive team,” Nagy said.

Youngstown State reached 91 in a triple-overtime game, but it had just 62 in regulation, which was 21.7 below its average.

But a defensive breakdown in the final six seconds actually cost the Raiders the game.

In a play that ended up as a lead story on ESPN’s SportsCenter, the Penguins inbounded to Dwayne Cohill in the backcourt, and he was immediately trapped by Finke and Alex Huibregtse.

He escaped with a behind-the-back dribble, though, and had a clear path down the middle of the court to the rim, laying it in over Noel at the buzzer for a two-point win.

“You look back on those things, and you say, ‘We could’ve done this, we could’ve done that,’” Nagy said.

“I think Alex initially had him bottled up and thought he was going to have to take a long shot — not realizing once (Cohill) got out of the trap, he could still get all the way to the basket.”

Why didn’t the Raiders just drop back and keep the ball in front of them?

“Last year, we played a zone on the last possession, and a kid hit a shot in the corner to beat us,” Nagy said.

He’s right. Daniel Ogoro’s 3 with five seconds left sent the Penguins to a 90-87 victory.

HL leader: The Raiders are averaging 3,647 fans for home games and almost certainly will finish first in attendance in the league for the seventh straight year under Nagy.

They drew 5,418 on Homecoming Night against Green Bay and might top that when rival Northern Kentucky visits Friday.

They averaged 3,309 last season. But they were over 4,000 every other year (except during the pandemic in 2020-21) with a high of 4,304 in 2017-18.

“The fans have been really supportive,” Finke said. “They’ve been showing up for us even when we’ve been losing. That’s very appreciated from our end. That doesn’t go unnoticed at all.”


IUPUI at Wright State, 7 p.m., ESPN+, 980

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