When Wright State jumped out to leads of 15-2 and 27-6 at IUPUI on Sunday, coach Scott Nagy knew his team wasn’t going to coast to the finish, and he made sure his players understood that.
“We told them it was going to be a very tough game, a 40-minute game. I didn’t care how we started,” he said on his post-game radio show. “We knew they were going to work their way back in it because they’re a tough team and are well-coached.”
The Jaguars did just that, climbing to within five at halftime and taking a three-point lead midway through the second half. But the Raiders didn’t buckle, scoring eight straight points in a 73-second span down the stretch to pull out a 79-74 victory.
After having their four-game winning streak end in a listless performance at UIC on Friday, shooting season lows from the field (21.8 percent) and on 3’s (16.7 percent), the Raiders put four players in double figures while shooting 47.2 from the floor and 38.1 beyond the arc.
They’re 13-11 overall and 7-4 and in a tie for second in the Horizon League with Oakland, which plays at Wright State at 7 p.m. Thursday.
The Jaguars, coming off a win Friday against first-place Northern Kentucky, had their three-game winning streak stopped while falling to 14-10, 6-5.
“I told the guys, ‘The most difficult thing for people to handle is success. It just is,” Nagy said. “We win four in a row and go to UIC, and we’re not as prepared emotionally as we should be. We come off a loss, and you see how we rolled in here. Our kids were locked in.
“The only good thing about losing is it reminds you how good winning is. And you want to feel that way again.”
Nagy went only eight deep in his rotation but received excellent production from the bench. Bill Wampler had a team-high 16 points, while freshmen Malachi Smith (seven points and five rebounds) and Skyelar Potter (three and six) also made an impact.
Cole Gentry and Mark Hughes had 13 each, but Gentry’s consecutive free-throw streak came to an end one short of the Jesse Deister’s school record of 47. The junior guard was 3 of 3 before missing one off the front of the rim with 37 seconds left.
Loudon Love had 12 points while playing 16 minutes before fouling out. He went 3 of 9 from the field after a 5-of-20 night at UIC and had a career-low one rebound.
The sophomore center had two rebounds in his first game as a Raider last season and then hadn’t had fewer than four until Sunday. But he went 6 of 6 from the foul line and has made nine straight overall, improving his percentage from 60.0 to 63.6.
“We just piecemealed it together. And that’s kind of how we have to do it all year,” Nagy said.
The Jaguars took their first lead at 53-52 on an Evan Hall layup with 12:13 to go. They increased it to 57-54 when D.J. McCall scored at 10:05.
But trailing 60-59, Smith made two foul shots at 4:22, and then Alan Vest made the game’s biggest shot with a 3-pointer off a Gentry assist for a 64-60 edge.
Camron Justice, who had 18 of his game-high 22 points in the first half, missed inside, and then Gentry knocked down a 3-pointer for a 67-60 lead with 3:09 to go.
After starting 0-7 in games decided by seven points or fewer, the Raiders have won three straight.
“We had the advantage. We were hungry,” Nagy said. “We’re coming off a loss, and these guys have been winning. They were feeling good about themselves.
“But even in the midst of a one-game winning streak, how do we stay hungry for Oakland, who’s going to be coming after us since we beat them (Jan. 5)? Can we be hungry for them?”