Nagy wants Raiders to stay loose in home stretch

Wright State is peaking at the right time, winning six of its last eight games. But coach Scott Nagy didn’t like what he saw in practice earlier this week.

His issue with his team had nothing to do with effort, though. With five Horizon League games left and so much up for grabs, Nagy believed his players were starting to feel the pressure mounting and wanted them to lighten up.

“We know what’s at stake. We know the position we’re in. We just want to win,” junior point guard Justin Mitchell said. “We competed for a championship last year but gave it up to Green Bay (in the league tourney finals). This year, we have a good team that can compete and win a championship.

“Coach Nagy said we’re practicing hard — practicing like we’ve been losing — and that’s really good. But we’re so competitive, we’ve got to breathe. We’re too uptight, and we’ve got to calm down and keep staying positive.”

The Raiders (17-9) have plenty of reasons to feel good about themselves. Their recent surge has vaulted them into a fourth-place tie at 8-5, three games behind 11-2 Valparaiso.

But while a regular-season league title is likely out of reach, the Raiders are only one game out of second. Oakland (9-4), Green Bay (9-5) and Northern Kentucky (8-5) also are battling for that enviable No. 2 seed in the conference tourney.

But going into a road game at Youngstown State today, Nagy’s main mission was to make sure his players didn’t start pressing.

“Our guys are working hard, and they get frustrated if they give up one basket in practice,” he said. “They’re highly competitive. I’m just trying to get them emotionally under control.

“Sometimes, that’s hurt us. We get emotionally out of control. If something bad happens in a game, instead of being able to get past it, we carry it to the next play and the play after that. We get to a bad spot, and we’ve got to get beyond that.”

Their trouble managing the highs and lows may explain why they’ve had some perplexing losses. They have two league home defeats, including an 80-75 decision to Youngstown State on Jan. 7.

The Raiders are playing five games over the next 11 days, three on the road and two at home. And Nagy knows where they still need to improve if they want to make a jump in the standings.

“We’re not as good a defensive team as we should be,” he said. “That continues to be the focus every day.”

The Raiders are averaging 77.3 points but giving up 71.9, which puts them in the middle of the pack in Division I in scoring defense.

Last year, they averaged 68.5 while surrendering 65.8.

“We’re not going to beat our guys over the head with it, but we’re to continue to harp on it,” Nagy said. “That’s where we want to be good.”

One area where the Raiders have drastically improved is their ball-handling — despite not having a true point guard in the lineup.

They averaged 16.4 turnovers in their first 16 games and 12.5 in their last 10.

They lead all league teams with an average of 15.5 assists in conference games.

“We’re one of the better passing teams in the league. Earlier, we weren’t. We turned the ball over a lot, and we weren’t getting a lot of assists,” Nagy said. “We haven’t had any 20-turnover games in a long time, and we’re starting to distribute the ball better.”

The way Mitchell sees it, the Raiders have become a more cohesive unit over the season.

“We’re clicking as a team. We’re playing together,” he said. “I think our team chemistry is getting stronger and increasing every day.”


Wright State (17-9, 8-5 Horizon League) at Youngstown State (10-7, 4-10), 7:45 p.m., ESPN3, 106.5-FM

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