By HAL McCOY
As a basketball painting, it was no da Vinci and was more like a finger painting.
But for courage, scrappiness, hustle and stick-to-it-tiveness it would be difficult to surpass what Wright State University did Friday night.
They were playing first place Northern Kentucky in front of a rare near sellout in the Nutter Center on national television (ESPNU).
And they saw an 11-point lead with 5:46 left vanish to a one-point lead with 1:15 left and their star big man, Man Mountain Loudon Love (6-foot-9, 275 pounds) anchored with four fouls.
It would have been easy to call it quits, but the Raiders stayed the course and pulled out a 69-67 victory.
It enabled WSU to pull into a first place tie with Northern Kentucky in the Horizon League at 12-and-2. But by virtue of WSU’s win at NKU earlier this season, Wright State owns the tie-breaker as far as grabbing the No. 1 seed for the Horizon League tournament.
The Raiders trailed by five late in the first half, due mostly to 1 for 8 shooting from three-point territory, but outscored the Norse 7-0 to end the half with a 32-30 lead.
WSU is familiar with that scenario. They played NKU three times last year, led all three at halftime, and lost all three.
But they steadily pulled away to start the second half and constructed a 63-52 lead on Grant Benzinger’s driving layup with 5:46 left.
Over and out? No way.
NKU went on an 8-0 binge to pull within three and a 10-1 streak to pull within two at 64-62 with 3:47 left.
That run came with Love on the bench in trouble with four fouls, but coach Scott Nagy gambled and put The Big Man back on the floor the rest of the way.
Late in the game, down four, NKU missed four shots on one possession but ended ukp with a three-pointer by Jordan Garrett to cut WSU’s lead to 66-65 with 1:15 left.
Earlier in the game, NKU converted three straight baskets off offensive rebounds and four in five possessions. For the game NKU outrebounded WSU on the offensive boards. Amazingly, Wright State has been outrebounded on the offensive boards 12 times this season and they are 12-0.
Freshman Jaylon Hall applied the coup de grace with 14 ½ seconds left by driving from the corner and hitting a stop-and-jump fadeaway shot from eight feet for a 68-65 lead.
Wisely and smartly, the Raiders fouled Lavonne Holland before he could launch a ‘3’ with 0:2.8 seconds left. He made the first three throw and tried to miss the second but made it and NKU was down one.
They fouled Hall with 0:0.9 left. He made the first for a two-point lead and missed the second purposely so NKU couldn’t set up an out-of-bounds play and WSU was a 69-67 winner.
It was not a great night for Benzinger, who scored 31 in WSU’s first win over NKU. The Norse paid close and tight attention to him and he scored only nine, six below his average. He was 0 for 4 from three.
Wright State’s other three-point collector, Mark Hughes, was 0 for 3 from three and the Raiders finished 3 for 16.
But after shooting 35 per cent in the first half, the Raiders picked it up to 67 per cent in the second half.
Wright State’s scrappy and hustling defense forced NKU to cast from afar and the Norse were 9 for 29 from three.
Love found two or three defenders flapping arms at him when he got the ball down low, but despite his foul problems he made 7 of 12 shots en route to 15 points.
NKU’s leading scorer, Drew McDonald had a big first half, but scored only two in the second half and finished with 12, four below his average.
Lavonne Holland, averaging 13 a game, didn’t score in the first half and finished with 15, carrying the Norse in the second half.
“We were good defensively and that’s why we won this game,” said WSU coach Scott Nagy. “We led them three times last year at halftime and they came bull-rushing back and beat us.”
They came bull-rushing back again Friday but WSU had the lariat to slow them down this time and improved to 20-8 for the season and NKU fell to 19-8.
Wright State hosts Cleveland State Monday night on Senior Night at Nutter Center, a team that beat the Raiders in Cleveland earlier this year.