By HAL McCOY
It looked more like football than basketball during the Wright State-Milwaukee Horizon League semifinal tournament game Monday night.
And the physicality of the game suited Loudon Love perfectly because the 6-foot-9, 275-pound red shirt freshman was an all-state offensive tackle in high school.
What does Love have to do with it? Everything for Wright State.
Love had a double-double by halftime and while most of the Raiders couldn’t find the bottom of the basket, Love commanded the real estate around the offensive basket for 18 points. And he finished with 12 rebounds.
Love made 8 of 13 shots, but the rest of the Raiders made only 10 of 40, just 25 percent.
Sharp-shooter Grant Benzinger scored only eight and was 2 for 10 from the field (2 for 8 from ‘3,’ but the scrappy guard nabbed 10 rebounds, played his usual all-over-the-floor game and was a force on defense.
And when it became crunch time in a pressure-stuff situation, Wright State made 11 of 12 free throws in the final minute-and-a-half to record a 59-53 tough-as-sharks victory.
The result vaulted the Raiders into the Horizon League championship Tuesday night against Cleveland State (ESPN), with an NCAA tournament bid as the grand prize. It also was WSU’s 24th victory this season, a school record for the Raiders since they began Division I play.
It was retribution, too, because Milwaukee had beaten WSU twice during the regular season, 66-61 in Milwaukee and 74-73 at the Nutter Center.
Love had 10 points and 10 rebounds at halftime, the 13th double-double of the year for the Horizon League Freshman of the Year.
Both team were freezer cold in the first half at Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit and Wright State led, 27-25, only because they finished with a 9-2 run.
Milwaukee’s Brock Stull had 11 in the first half, but didn’t score in the second half until 10 seconds were left in the game. But Jeremiah Bell took over the scoring for the Panthers in the second half and finished with 22.
Cole Gentry opened the second half with a three and Barnes countered with a quick two.
From there, Milwaukee went nearly eight minutes without a point and was 2 for 16 to start the second half. Wright State, though, couldn’t take much advantage and only owned a 39-33 lead.
Bell finally hit on a drive to the basket to cut it to 39-35. And then the lead was down to three before Mark Hughes cleanly swished a ‘3’ from the corner with three minutes left to push the Raiders in front, 48-42.
When Bell hit a jumper at 1:40, Milwaukee was within three at 48-45, but the Panthers had to foul the rest of the way.
And the free throws went like this:
—Love 2-for-2 at 1:26.
—Jaylon Hall 2-for-2 at 1:01.
—Hall 2-for-2 at :37.
—Mark Hughes 2-for-2 at :31.
—Cole Gentry 1-for-2 at :19.
—Grant Benzinger 2-for-2 at :10.
Benzinger’s two free throws gave WSU an eight point lead, making a Milwaukee basket at the buzzer immaterial.
Other than Love, the only other WSU players to score in double figures was Hall, who came off the bench to score 12.