How big was Wright State’s game at Northern Kentucky on Friday night?
The top six of the 15 notes on the front page of the Horizon League’s weekly men’s basketball release were about the two teams.
The game lived up to the hype.
Junior Loudon Love scored 20 points and pulled in 14 rebounds, senior Bill Wampler also put together a double with 11 points and 11 rebounds and senior Cole Gentry scored all 12 of his points in the second half – including two free throws with 12.6 seconds left – as the Raiders held off the Norse and clinched the Horizon League regular-season championship with a 64-62 win.
Wright State (25-6, 15-3) also clinch the top seed in the upcoming Horizon League tournament with the program’s first-ever outright conference championship. Wright State previously shared three conference titles.
“That’s awesome for the university and the fans and the team,” Gentry said. “I love playing here. I love this school. Growing up, this is the kind of game you want to be in.”
“Honestly, I didn’t even know that,” coach Scott Nagy said. “You’d think I’d know that. It’s great for Wright State, but better for our players.”
An NKU win would’ve left the two teams tied for the Horizon regular-season championship and given the Norse (21-9, 13-5) the No. 1 seed in the tournament based on the league’s tie-breaking procedure.
“It makes it easier for us to get to the NCAA Tournament, but we still have to win the (league) tournament,” Nagy said.
The teams combined to go 9-for-43 on 3-point shots, including NKU’s 5-for-27 (18.5 percent).
Wright State led for the last 34 minutes of the game, but NKU whittled an 11-point second-half Raiders’ lead down to two and still trailed by only three when Gentry calmly sank two 3-point shots to give the Raiders a 58-51 cushion. Love, who committed seven turnovers in the game, missed five of six free throws in the final minute and Wampler missed two before Gentry swished two for a 64-62 lead with 12.6 seconds left and the crowd of 6,776 roaring.
“I’ve practiced free throws my whole life,” Gentry said. “I just had to get myself calmed down and go through my routine.
“Obviously, the first half wasn’t my best, but the team played well,” he added. “I tried not to make it about myself. In the second half, things kind of opened up for me.”
“We were frustrated because they threw the ball to Loudon, and he isn’t one of our best free throw shooters,” said Nagy, who logged his 501st career win. “We made enough. Luckily, we were finally able to get it to Cole. That’s what you expect from a senior in those moments.
“I was proud of the way we were able to come through in tough conditions,” he added.
Using his strength to create enough room to execute some deft moves around the basket, Love scored 13 of Wright State’s first 16 points on his way to 15 in the first half. The Raiders went into halftime up 36-29, matching their largest lead of the half. There were three lead changes before Love reeled off seven unanswered points during a 9-0 run that propelled Wright State to an 18-11 lead with 12:27 left in the half.
Sophomore Jaylon Hall added all of his nine points in the half, including two on free throws after a steal to cap the 9-0 run.
“Loudon got off to a great start, and that really settled us down,” Nagy said.