With 3:55 left in the game and Wright State about to huddle in front of its bench, Bill Wampler – a towel draped over his head, his 19-point night done as the second stringers were sent in for the mop-up duty – momentarily diverted his attention elsewhere.
When he finally made eye contact with the coach from northern Kentucky, he smiled, waggled a brief, clandestine wave and then mouthed a kiss.
The coach responded with a wave and a big laugh.
But don’t think this lovefest in the rockin’ Nutter Center on Friday night was between Wright State and Northern Kentucky, who have, as Raiders guard Jaylon Hall put it later, “the best rivalry in the Horizon League.”
There were no kisses and waves between these two conference heavyweights as Wright State demolished the Norse, 95-63, in front of the Raiders’ largest and most electrified gathering of the season – a crowd of 6,217 that included Governor Mike DeWine sitting on one baseline and new WSU president Susan Edwards on the other – and a national ESPN audience.
NKU departed the Nutter Center without a smile.
Trevon Faulkner – the team’s second-leading scorer, who went 1 for 9 from the floor and finished with three points, more than 10 below his average – exited the game with a fifth foul that referees called a Flagrant 1 for his rough take down of Wampler on a rebound.
And afterward, Norse head coach Darrin Horn turned down a request from a Dayton Daily News sportswriter for some postgame comments.
So no, Wampler was not looking in the direction of the Norse bench.
His affections were directed toward an assistant coach from the Thomas More College women’s team in Crestview Hills, which is just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati in northern Kentucky.
His mimicked kiss went straight to Emily Vogelpohl, who is a first-year assistant with the Saints’ women’s team and the former WSU hoops standout who graduated last spring after scoring 1,381 career points, sixth most in school history.
She and Wampler – a fifth-year senior guard for the Raiders and himself a 1,241 point scorer from his days at Drake and WSU combined – have been dating for a little over a year and a half.
But this season their romance comes with a lot of road trips.
She was sitting up in Section 204 at the Nutter Center – the third men’s game she’s made this season – alongside her Raiders teammates from last year’s NCAA tournament team. They were honored on the court at halftime.
Saturday, Wampler headed to Thomas More to catch the 15-5 Saints’ game with Campbellsville, the second ranked NAIA Division I team in the nation. It would be his third Saints game, as well.
“We’d see each other every day when I was up here at school, but now that I’m back in Cincinnati (she went to McAuley High School) he comes down all the time and I come here when I can,” Vogelpohl said “Actually we are supporting each other a lot more now. We’ve come to know exactly what the other one likes or wants. It’s awesome.”
“If I’m having a really bad day, I’ll go down and see her and nine out of 10 times I end up better. She makes me laugh and pulls me up.”
While Wampler knew Vogelpohl was coming to Friday night’s game. he wasn’t sure he’d be able to find her when he saw the crowd that had shown up for the Green Out game.
Fans were given green T-shirts when they came in and green glow sticks. And when the lights were shut off for pregame introductions, the arena turned into the shimmering Emerald City.
“That kind of thing definitely gives players energy,” said Raiders coach Scott Nagy. ”But sometimes it can affect you negatively.
“Like you saw last year when we played them here. We had a big crowd and we went down 16 in the first half. Sometimes guys get too excited before and when the game starts the energy wears off.”
Last year it was Wampler who came off the bench and saved the day. He lifted the Raiders out of the depths with a career-high 29 points in what ended up a 81-77 WSU victory.
Friday, he again was a steadying force, especially with freshman Tanner Holden.
“I was a nervous,” Holden admitted. “An hour before the game the gym was almost full and I thought, ‘Man, this is gonna be crazy!’”
Wampler started to light up when he heard Holden recount his emotions:
“Tanner and I are usually the first two guys here and his heart was racing 3 ½ hours before the game! I’m a fifth-year senior. I‘ve been around a lot of games like this and I really don’t get nervous.
“I was like, ‘C’mon Dude, you just got to relax. We’re just playing basketball…. It’s just another game.’”
‘Pretty nice performance’
It was just another game and it was not.
Northern Kentucky came into the game 14-6 and on a five-game winning streak.
But Wright State is on an even better run. It’s now won 11 of its last 12 games and its 18-4 start this season is the best since the school became a Division I program 33 seasons ago.
With an 8-1 mark, the Raiders lead the Horizon League by two games.
Nagy and his staff coached this game wearing their usual suits, but barefoot. It’s a way the coach raises awareness and money each year for the Samaritan’s Feet charity. And this June he and his team will go into the community and wash the feet of people in need and then fit them with new socks and shoes.
Players said the one of the thing they had to do Friday night was not step on their coaches’ feet.
They also played their best game of the season – mixing stifling defense with an overwhelming 43-28 advantage on the boards and 61 percent shooting from the floor – all of which kept their coach from his usual foot stomping to get their attention.
Heeding Wampler’s advice, Holden finished with a game-high 20 points and 13 rebounds. Loudon Love had 16 points and 11 boards.
Hall had 15 points, freshman Trey Calvin added 12 and point guard Cole Gentry had 11.
Along with his 19 points Wampler added six assists.
Afterward Vogelpohl went from girlfriend to coach:
“Tonight he played well. He shot the ball well and made some free throws. It was a pretty nice performance.”
A career in coaching
For Vogelpohl, no performance in her glorious WSU career was more gritty than last year’s NCAA Tournament game against Texas A&M when she played with a broken right wrist suffered just a few days earlier.
The Raiders lost that game and a couple of weeks later she was taking part in the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) initiative called “So You Want To Be A Coach”
The selective program helps college athletes whose eligibility is done to become a coach. Candidates who are nominated by their head coaches write a statement about themselves and also do a video.
“I sort of just looked at my life,” Vogelpohl said. “I looked at the little girl who loved basketball and I wanted to be that type of coach for that type of girl. I wanted to give back to that type of player and that’s what I’m trying to do now.”
Wampler said she turned down some opportunities to be a graduate assistant with NCAA Division I programs because she wanted to have more responsibilities and was able to do that at Thomas More where she’s a full-time assistant on Jeff Hans’ staff.
“The other night her team beat the No. 12 team in the nation (Lindsey Wilson, 74-56) and that was her scout,” Wampler said. “The team is undefeated this season with the scouting reports she’s put together.”
He said she’s a boon to his basketball, as well:
“If things aren’t going well for me, we’ll work out. She’s probably a harder worker than I am. I want to be like her because she just makes me better.
“She’s just a caring, giving person. You see it when she coaches her players and you see it when she comes to our games.
“Sometimes she just freaks out cheering. When we played at IUPUI she was the loudest fan in the building. When I hit my first three, I blew her a kiss actually.”
And with that in mind, Wampler headed from the interview area Friday night and went back to the court where Vogelpohl waited for him.
When he got to her, the first thing he did was give her a kiss.
And when they left arm in arm, you knew at least one coach from northern Kentucky had enjoyed this night.
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