By HAL McCOY
There could not have been a more exciting, more competitive and more well-played basketball than what was enacted Friday night at the Nutter Center.
Wright State University and Northern Kentucky University left a dozen hearts on the floor in a hand-to-hand combat battle for first place in the Horizon League.
Wright State, seemingly down-and-out, trailed by 16 points midway through the first half, but the Raiders were neither down nor out.
They were straggling behind the hot-shooting Norse, 40-24, on Blackout Night, with Wright State wearing black uniforms and the student section donned in black tee-shirts.
And it looked like a black night for the Raiders until they pulled up their sweat socks late in the first half and went on a 13-0 run to get themselves within five at halftime, 49-44.
Bill Wampler, who always comes off the bench, scored eight straight points during that run en route to a career-high 29 points.
“We were getting out-physicaled, not rebounding, not boxing out and they were beating us off screens,” said Wampler.
The Raiders, applying tighter defense in the second half, quickly caught up to start the final 20 minutes.
They took a 54-53 lead on Wampler’s drive to the basket with 16 minutes left and it was an out-and-out gut check for both teams the rest of the way.
It was 75-75 with 1:42 left when Wright State’s Mark Hughes missed a shot, but Wampler snagged the rebound and put it home.
“Coach has been trying to get me to do more offensive rebounding,” said Wampler. “Sometimes I just cop out and go back. But I saw the opportunity and knew we needed the play. I was in the right place at the right time.” Or, the Wright time.
Then came the biggest play of the game.
Loudon Love missed a shot, but grabbed his own rebound and was fouled by NKU star Drew McDonald. And the officials ruled that McDonald hooked Love, a technical foul.
Love made 1 of the two free throws and Wright State kept the ball on the technical with 24 seconds left.
That man Wampler was fouled and made 1 of 2 and Alan Vest hit two more with 11 seconds left to give the Raiders an insurmountable 81-75 lead.
With the win, Wright State moved into a first place tie with NKU at 10-and-3 in the Horizon.
“We got down 16 in the first half and got a little discouraged,” said Wright State coach Scott Nagy. “We called time out and fought back to get it to five by halftime and we just scrapped in the second half.
“It is so much fun to watch our kids scrap and they believe. We’ve seen this before, when your kids believe they can win any game,” Nagy added. “That’s the way they play.”
Loudon Love outdueled his post opponent, Drew McDonald, picked to be the Horizon League Player of the Year. Love had 20 points on 8 for 12 shooting and 11 rebounds. McDonald had 23 points, but needed 19 shots (nine made) and nine rebounds.
“If you ask Loudon, he would feel like he played terrible tonight,” said Nagy. “But the guy had 20 points and 11 rebounds. Honestly, he didn’t play great. I would agree with him. He was a little bit out to lunch on some things and he made some mistakes defensively — still you look at 20 and 11 and you aren’t going to sneeze at that.”
Tyler Sharpe and Dantez Walton both had 16 for the Norse.
Northern Kentucky shot 61 per cent in the first half and finished at 50 per cent while Wright State hit 54.7 per cent from the field.
After scoring 49 points in the first half, NKU was held to 28 in the second half while Wright State scored 37.
“It was a fun basketball game,” said Wampler. “It was up-and-down. It was up tempo in the first half, which isn’t what we really wanted. But we settled down in the second half and figured out how to guard them.”
Nagy seemed perplexed after the sensational win.
“We had a hard time doing anything offensively and yet we shot 54 per cent,” he said. “It was hard for us to run anything.
“But it was a great college basketball game and it was great offense in the first half and great defense in the second half.”