Wright State players saw a different side of Scott Nagy in their locker room at halftime after allowing Youngstown State to build a 45-38 lead Thursday.
The Raiders were getting carved up by the upstart Penguins, and they looked to be on the path to another road defeat until getting chewed out by their defensive-minded coach.
“It was the first time all year I really had to raise my voice. I just let out some frustration, and the kids responded to it,” Nagy said on his post-game radio show.
“We have too many older kids for stuff like that to happen. It’s on their shoulders, and they need to get us going. I don’t care what the atmosphere (around the team) is like. This is all too important to all of us. We’re very fortunate to win this game the way we played in the first half.”
The Raiders rode a strong second-half defensive effort, perfect shooting from the free-throw line and a breakout performance from Malachi Smith to pull out an 80-74 victory.
They gave up only 29 second-half points and went 18 for 18 on foul shots to improve to 9-10 overall and 3-3 in the Horizon League.
It was only their second road win after starting the season 1-8 away from the Nutter Center, and it was the first time they prevailed in a game decided by seven points or fewer after starting 0-7.
Smith scored 17 points and had a game-high nine rebounds off the bench. He reached double figures for the first time since notching 10 points in the opener against Western Carolina.
The 6-foot-3 freshman guard from Belleville, Ill., thought Nagy’s halftime tongue-lashing was what the Raiders needed.
“He doesn’t like to yell at us like that. But he knows the potential we have, and he gets frustrated when we don’t play like it,” Smith said in an interview with radio broadcasters Chris Collins and Jim Brown.
“In the first half, they were getting anything they wanted. We knew in the second half, we had to start shutting them down.”
Bill Wampler had 17 points and Mark Hughes 16, while Loudon Love had 15 points and seven rebounds.
Cole Gentry had a rare off game, scoring just four points while going 1 for 8 from the field. But he went 2-for-2 on free throws to extend his streak to 33 in a row, 14 short of the school record.
Leading by just one with four minutes to go, Love scored two straight baskets — the second off a Smith assist — for a 74-69 lead with 2:21 left.
The Penguins (6-14, 2-5) — who had won two of their last three games, both on the road, despite starting three freshmen and two sophomores — were unable to come closer than four points the rest of the way because of the Raiders’ flawless foul shooting.
Smith made four straight in the final 27 seconds. He went 5 for 9 from the field, making his only 3-point attempt, and 6 for 6 from the foul line. He also had three assists and three steals with just one turnover while playing 23 minutes.
“Malachi is probably sick of hearing from me how these freshmen on other teams are playing so well,” Nagy said. “How good was he tonight? He was our leading rebounder and leading scorer and played with so much poise.
“I’m really proud and happy for him because it’s been a long year. We’ve gotten after him pretty hard, and he doesn’t always love that. But he stuck with it.”