Jalen Tate switched uniforms in the first half, trading No. 11 for No. 1. Then he lived up to it.
The Northern Kentucky third-year sophomore guard, whose first jersey was soiled with some blood, scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half and the Norse erupted for 41 after halftime on their way to a 68-64 Horizon League win on Friday before a crowd of 5,848 at BB&T Arena on the NKU campus.
The 6-foot-6 Tate repeatedly beat Raider defenders to the rim and then could be seen letting them know it on his way back up court. NKU (14-4, 4-1), which moved into a tie for first place with Detroit Mercy, shot an impressive 68.2 percent from the field in the second half (15-for-22) after managing just 28.6 percent (8-for-28) in the first half.
“They just beat us off the bounce,” third-year Wright State coach Scott Nagy said. “We played good defense in the first half. In the second half, we let them make way too many shots. It was more breakdowns on our part than anything else.”
Sophomore center Loudon Love scored 16 points, senior guard Mark Hughes added 14 and junior guard Cole Gentry finished with 12 for Wright State (8-10, 2-3), which sank a season-low three 3-pointers in 15 tries. Love overcame some physical defense to go 8-for-16 from the field, a bit down from the 51.6 percentage he brought into the game.
“It was a little more pronounced tonight,” the 6-foot-9 Love said of the physicality. “I’ve seen it before. I work on it in practice. That’s an OK percentage, but it’s not great for what I was shooting. That’s a lot of misses.”
Hughes capped a Raiders’ 11-3 run with his second 3-pointer in two tries to complete a comeback from an eight-point deficit to a 56-56 tie with 5:53 left in the game. The Raiders also came from behind to forge ties two more times, 60-60 and 62-62, before Drew McDonald scored five straight points on a reverse layup and, with 40 seconds left, a 3-pointer to finish with a game-high 22 points.
“There’s always a run, but we never should have let them get the lead in the first place, especially on the road in a rivalry game,” Love said.
McDonald, the Horizon League’s preseason player of the year, also led both teams with 12 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season.
Wright State trailed by as many as four points in the first half and was down, 22-19, when Love was forced to the bench with two fouls and eight points with 5:02 left before halftime. Hughes responded with five points during an 11-5 Raiders run that left them leading, 30-27, at halftime. Hughes, who went into the game averaging 10 points per game and scored a season-high 17 in the Raiders’ 89-073 Horizon League win at Oakland last Saturday, finished Friday’s first half with nine, including Wright State’s only 3-pointer in six attempts.
Wright State outrebounded NKU, 34-32, leading to a 42-34 advantage in points in the paint and 11-7 in second-chance points, but the Norse enjoyed a 17-7 advantage in fast break points and 21-13 off the bench. The game included 10 ties and seven lead changes.
“Our kids played hard enough to win the game,” Nagy said. “We just didn’t. Our offense hasn’t been consistent enough. We didn’t shoot well from 3. When you’re struggling defensively, you have to make shots.”
The Raiders, who have lost two of their last three games, have two more in a stretch of five consecutive road games before they return home to meet Milwaukee on Jan. 24. They will play at Youngstown State on Thursday and at Cleveland State on Jan. 19.