“None of them have lost in high school and none of them have really lost in college, and all of the sudden we’re going through this stretch and heads are spinning right now,” Nagy said.
The heads are spinning less after Saturday’s 72-63 victory over Tennessee Tech at the Nutter Center. The rising confidence comes from starting to play the kind of defense Nagy demands, and a road trip to another Power 5 team might show just how far the Raiders have come since losing five straight and seven of eight.
The Raiders play at North Carolina State of the Atlantic Coast Conference at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The Wolfpack are 7-5 and two games removed from an overtime loss to then-No. 1 Purdue on a neutral court. A month ago the Raiders went to Purdue and lost 96-52.
“We’re probably a lot more confident now than when we went in to play Purdue,” Nagy said. “We’re in a better position to go play a game like this. So we’ll go play it, and we’ll see.”
Scheduling Power 5 opponents has not been part of Nagy’s plan until this year. He had four returning starters, so he strengthened the non-league schedule.
“We thought our team was ready for it – we really did,” Nagy said. “This is the toughest nonconference schedule I’ve ever coached against, without question. We always talk about wanting to be a team that maybe could have a chance to win an at-large bid. And you’ve got to play a schedule like this, and you’ve got to win those games.”
Instead, the Purdue loss in the third game following an eight-point loss at Marshall sacked the Raiders’ confidence. They gave up over 90 points in both games.
“You don’t schedule games like that thinking you’re not going to compete,” Nagy said. “The Purdue game, quite frankly, was embarrassing for us. And it really hurt our confidence on top of that.”
The losses continued at a tournament in Florida to George Washington, James Madison and Long Beach State. After a win at Purdue Fort Wayne in the Horizon League opener, two more losses followed at Cleveland State and at home to Akron.
Akron won 66-48, but the Raiders felt better about their defensive effort, which has been key to Nagy’s five winnings seasons at WSU. The second half against Tennessee Tech, particularly the final 10 minutes, gave the Raiders confidence that the trip to North Carolina won’t be like the one to Purdue.
“We’re more prepared,” junior guard Trey Calvin said. “Early in the season we were still trying to work out the kinks. We weren’t very good defensively. We’re still not there, but we’re getting closer. Defensively our mindset’s changed. We’ll compete with them for sure.”
Wright State at N.C. State, 7 p.m., ACC Network Extra, 103.9