Did the Wright State pep band know something the rest of us didn’t before the Raiders took on Northern Kentucky on Friday night?
Dropped nicely into their pregame repertoire was a Michael Jackson classic that could have doubled as theme song for the game 7,205 fans were about to see.
Yes, the Raiders 69-67 win over the Norse, which left the teams tied for first place in the Horizon League, was a Thriller, no doubt.
This game pretty much had it all, including a vocal cheering section that made the trip from the other side of the Ohio River.
(Rivalry, anyone? We could call it the NoKy-SwOho Classic! Well, maybe not.)
The Norse faithful saw their team fall behind early, lead briefly late in the first half only to trail by two heading into intermission.
Wright State stretched that 32-20 advantage to as many as 11 points midway through the second half, but the defending league tournament champions weren’t about to go silently into the Greene County night.
They stormed back to get within a point at 66-65 with just over a minute to go, but the Raiders held on.
Freshman Jaylon Hall nearly defied gravity as he twisted around a defender and banked home a crucial insurance basket with 14 seconds left.
That gave Wright State coach Scott Nagy a chance to make one of those decisions coaches are paid the big bucks for.
With a three-point lead, he told his players to foul rather than let the Norse get off a 3-pointer that could tie the game.
It worked. NKU made both free throws (perhaps not intentionally on the second one) and had to foul.
Hall made one and missed the second, leaving the Norse with less than a second to get off a 94-footer.
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Wright State won to sweep the season series and announce that whatever happens the rest of the way, this group is for real.
For sure, nothing yet is guaranteed. They have three regular season games left and probably have to win them all to secure the right to hang a conference championship banner for Nagy’s second season at the helm.
Then they’ll still need to win the Horizon League tournament to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament, that magical land the Raiders have only reached twice since moving to Division I.
Such goals are the reason Nagy is here.
He was hired in a bold move following the highly questioned firing of Billy Donlon two years ago, but it’s looking pretty smart now.
The Raiders have a little bit of everything that makes a team a tough out in college basketball.
Talented big men, a senior sharp shooter, a heady point guard and some athletic wings.
And they defend.
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Then a freshman like Hall comes off the bench to score 10 points, including the eventual game-winners, and you can see big things happening at the Nutter Center for years to come.
Yeah, those dreams could be dashed as soon as Monday when Cleveland State (8-20 entering Friday night) comes to town – the Vikings already beat WSU once, and Nagy said he was more worried about preparing for them than NKU.
That makes sense because motivation wouldn’t be a problem with first place on the line against the Norse, but still… Wright State on upset alert? Really?
The erstwhile little brothers of the dormant Gem City Jam are having themselves that type of year.
It’s going so well their coach can look, at least a little bit, past the first-place team in the league because he knows he has good enough players to beat them if they just follow the script.
That’s a pretty good place to be.
Now what’s next?
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