Wright State knew it was going to need an extra dose of effort Saturday night to climb past a taller Northern Kentucky squad, but the Raiders were disturbingly deficient in the want-to department from tip to horn.
The Norse out-muscled WSU for easy buckets and repeated trips to the free-throw line, where sophomore center Drew McDonald went 4 of 4 in the final 15 seconds to help NKU hold off the Raiders, 83-79, before a season-high crowd of 5,993 at the Nutter Center.
“It’s hard to admit, it’s hard to say, they just wanted the game more,” WSU coach Scott Nagy said. “We had several opportunities in the second half — several — to get loose balls and dive on the floor and we wouldn’t do it. It’s frustrating, and you’d think you would have learned enough lessons.”
The Raiders fell to 15-9 overall and 6-5 in the Horizon League, dropping a game and a half behind second-place Wisconsin-Green Bay, which upset first-place Valparaiso earlier in the day.
McDonald led NKU (15-9, 6-5 HL) with 20 points, seven of which came on free throws as the Norse went to the line 27 times.
“Energy shows up in free throws and it shows up in rebounding,” Nagy said. “We just got pushed around.
“I thought we lost the game in the first half,” he added. “We were up four and we should’ve been up 15 the way we shot the ball. We defended well. But we gave up eight offensive rebounds, and a lot of those offensive rebounds ended up being second shots that were good shots for them.”
Freshman forward Carson Williams and senior guard Cole Murray each added 14 points for the Norse, who scored 16 second-chance points off 11 offensive rebounds, including a McDonald rebound off an airball in which he barely beat the shot clock on the stickback. The play came with 5:59 remaining and put NKU up 67-61, equaling its biggest lead at that point.
Another near shot-clock violation resulted in the Norse’s Jordan Garnett throwing up a one-handed, off-balance trey that swished for a 79-74 advantage with 30 seconds to go.
“We’ll live with that shot all night,” said WSU junior guard Justin Mitchell, who nearly missed his third consecutive double-double with 18 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
“It was great defense,” Mitchell said. “It was just a Cinderella shot. We didn’t come to play tonight. They beat us on the rebounds. That just shows they wanted it more than us.”
WSU junior guard Mark Alstork led all players with 27 points, including a run of 11 in a row for the Raiders over a span of 3:13 in the second half to give the Raiders their final lead at 61-60 with 8:02 to go.
NKU answered with a 10-2 run to seize control.
“It definitely stings,” Alstork said. “As players, we’ve got to take the blame. Just myself, I have to take the blame for my loss, not coming out ready to play and not being intense enough for my team. They wanted it more tonight, so we’ve got to address that.”
Steven Davis added 15 points for WSU, which played shorthanded most of the night with junior guard Grant Benzinger (nine points, season-low 21 minutes) and sophomore forward Parker Ernsthausen (four points, 15 minutes) battling foul trouble.
“We’ve not practiced well lately, and I’ve been after the guys about it,” Nagy said. ” If you want to be special, this is the time of year you have to practice well. This is the time you have to practice well if you want to be a championship-notch team.”
He said that would be an emphasis this week as the team gets ready for Thursday’s home game against Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“We’re definitely going to be back Thursday,” Alstork said. “We’re going to address it all week in practice. Coach is going to find a group of guys who want to play. We’re going to have to become a championship team sooner or later.”