Wright State coach’s defensive philosophy taking hold

Scott Nagy emphasizes defense as much as any college coach, and he’d probably include at least a couple of defensive stoppers in every recruiting class if they weren’t so hard to find.

Those players are scarce because high school stars generally focus only on scoring — and their coaches tend to shield them on defense anyway because of the risk of foul trouble.

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But Nagy has found a way around that.

“We always try to recruit good offensive players … and then we put the screws to them when they get here,” he said.

The second-year Wright State coach certainly has succeeded in getting his players to buy into defense this season. Through 12 games, they rank among the national leaders in several key areas.

They’re 35th out of 351 Division I teams in points allowed per game at 64.0 and 32nd in turnovers forced at 17. They’re also 36th in defensive efficiency, which measures points per possession.

The latter category is the one Nagy values most because it gauges how well teams are doing regardless of the pace of their games. His goal is to give up less than one point per possession, and the Raiders are allowing 0.913.

“Coach Cooley keeps better track of this than I do, but he said in the last 10 years, this is the best defensive team we’ve had,” Nagy said, referring to associate head coach and longtime assistant Brian Cooley.

The high turnover rate for opponents is surprising to Nagy because the Raiders don’t extend their defense beyond the 3-point arc. But their ability to draw offensive fouls is jacking up that total.

“One thing we do — this team probably more than any I’ve had — is take charges,” he said. “That’s a great defensive play because it’s a foul, plus it’s a turnover.”

The Raiders’ success on defense is all the more impressive when you consider they don’t have a true rim protector.

But they’ve managed to limit opponents’ free-throw attempts — their average of 15.4 fouls per game is the 19th-lowest in the country — and they have some individual defensive standouts in wings Mark Hughes and Justin Mitchell.

“We have two guards right there who are big and athletic and good on-the-ball defenders,” Nagy said.

The coach also lauded 6-11 Parker Ernsthausen, calling him the team’s “best communicator.” And the Raiders have included freshmen Louden Love, Everett Winchester and Jaylon Hall in their eight-man rotation because that trio plays both ends of the floor.

“Jaylon never had to do what we’re asking him to do, and now he’s getting to a really good spot — understanding that the most important thing to us is rebounding and defense,” Nagy said.

“He’s not the only one. We tell our guys all the time: ‘You’re value to the team is rebounding and defense, not scoring. As soon as you start thinking of scoring, you’re not going to play for us.’ ”

The Raiders are coming off a 66-50 loss at Missouri State , but they played well enough defensively to win.

They’ll need that same mentality when they visit Georgia Tech at 9 p.m. Friday.

“If we guard how we’ve been guarding, we’re going to be hard to beat,” Mitchell said.

“Defense gets me going, and I think it gets the team going when they see me out there playing hard,” he added. “That’s my mindset right now — defense, going hard, getting stops. When we do that, I believe we can beat any team.”

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