Wright State has shown it can overcome slow starts

Credit: Grace Ramey

Credit: Grace Ramey

FAIRBORN — Wright State fans know the program is to a point where they can count on the team contending for championships each year.

They also know they’d better strap in before the season starts. The Raiders may hoist trophies at the end, but it tends to be a bumpy ride getting there.

They have a 5-5 record going into a game Wednesday at Akron, a top Mid-American squad that beat the Raiders by nearly 20 in the Nutter Center last season.

That pounding was part of a dreary stretch of seven losses in nine games to start the season.

They went 7-3 in their first 10 games in 2020-21, 4-6 in 2019-20 and then 6-4 the three seasons before that.

Coach Scott Nagy hasn’t been shy about saying his goal is to build the Raiders into an NCAA at-large candidate, making the tourney even without the Horizon League’s automatic bid.

But their combined record through 10 games in his seven years is 37-33, meaning they’re usually eliminated from the discussion by early December.

Asked about the slow starts, Nagy said: “I don’t have an answer to that. I hadn’t really noticed that about our team.”

After some thought, he said: “Every team has its demons to battle. We tend to battle them early, and usually, they’re about offense — guys wanting to score and then being able to convince them that defense is more important.

“That’s what we want to be about. It’s hard to sell that to kids. I say this all the time: They don’t get attention for being a good defender. They get attention from everybody — the people around them, the newspaper — if they score a bunch of points. You can almost do everything else horribly, and nobody would say anything.”

Nagy is right. A player is identified by the public address announcer for making a basket, but not for a defensive stop.

“I’m battling against everybody else in terms of where we want to put our value,” Nagy said. “Sometimes, that takes a while.”

The Raiders, though, invariably come around when it matters most.

Since a fifth-place showing and an early tourney exit in his first season in 2016-17, Nagy has led the Raiders to five straight league titles. They won the HL tourney in 2018 and ‘22 and at least a share of the regular-season crown three straight years from 2018-21.

They appear to have the makings of another contender despite their middling record, but working new players into prominent roles has taken longer than expected.

Nagy, though, sees progress.

“We’re in a way better spot than we were a week ago, in terms of our mindset,” he said.

The Raiders have lost three straight: two poor showings at home against league foes and then a 64-60 defeat at Western Kentucky.

Nagy said they spent the four days leading up to the WKU game working almost exclusively on defense, and he was pleased with the effort.

He acknowledged, though, that the offense may have suffered from neglect.

“We’re going on the road to play Akron, which beat Western Kentucky by almost 20 (in the Cayman Islands Classic). It’s a tough place to get well if you’re just looking for results,” Nagy said.

“But as a coach, you can’t be results-oriented, which I think I was a little bit too much early. We can go up there and win, but I just want to keep our focus on the things that will help us win consistently.”

They have a home game Saturday against Northwestern Ohio and then a trip to Miami next week.

After that, it’s 18 straight conference games.

“I look at our league, and it’s pretty wide open,” Nagy said. “We obviously made things very difficult for ourselves by losing two home games to start with — I don’t think I’ve ever done that. But I’ve been 0-2 and won the league.

“It puts more pressure on you to play a little more perfectly. But we’re not going to panic about it.”


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

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