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NKU plays host to Wright State in nationally televised Horizon League showdown on Friday night

By Don Owen
NKyTribune reporter

A big-game atmosphere at BB&T Arena and a national television audience on ESPN2 figures to make Friday’s 7 p.m. showdown between Northern Kentucky University and Wright State lots of fun.

It also happens to be the Horizon League’s best rivalry with much at stake.

NKU is 13-4 overall, 3-1 in the Horizon League, and Wright State is 8-9 overall, 2-2 in the Horizon League. Since the start of the 2016-17 season, NKU is a combined 33-11 against Horizon League competition, the best of any league school against the rest of the conference. Wright State is next at 30-14.

NKU’s Drew McDonald (left) battles for position against Wright State’s Loudon Love last season. McDonald and Love are two of the top inside players in the nation. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Wright State leads the all-time series by a 23-10 margin. Since NKU joined the Horizon League, the Raiders own a 4-3 edge. Wright State won each of the two matchups in both 2016 and 2018, while the Norse swept all three meetings in 2017.

NKU enters Friday’s showdown riding a 14-game home winning streak, with the last loss at BB&T Arena coming against Oakland on Jan. 26, 2018. Wright State also won at BB&T Arena last season, posting an 84-81 victory over NKU on Jan. 11, 2018.

Norse senior forward Drew McDonald averages 18.6 points per game, and he also leads NKU at 10.0 rebounds per contest (19th in nation). His eight double-doubles rank 14th nationally, and he is one of just 16 players to register a triple-double this season.

In his last 24 games against Horizon League opponents dating back to March 17, 2017, McDonald has posted a double-double 16 times. The Cold Spring native is one of five active players in Division I basketball with at least 1,700 career points (1,748) and 900 career boards (932).

Sophomore guard Jalen Tate averages 12.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists. He is also shooting 57 percent from the field. Since returning from injury five games ago, Tate has averaged 14.8 ppg.

Junior guard Tyler Sharpe is second on the team in scoring, pouring in 13.9 points per game. Junior forward Dantez Walton averages 11.6 points and 5.7 rebounds.

Bill Wampler, McDonald’s teammate on this summer’s FISU America’s gold medal-winning USA Team, paces four Wright State players scoring in double figures at 15.0 points per game. Cole Gentry is scoring 14.4 ppg, while center Loudon Love averages 13.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Mark Hughes chips in 10.0 points per contest for the Raiders, who posted a road win at Oakland last Saturday.

In its last game, NKU shot 57.1 percent from the field and ran Detroit Mercy out of its own gym with a 95-73 victory. Detroit Mercy scoring machine Antoine Davis — averaging 26.9 points per game going — netted 33 points, but the Norse countered with a balanced attack that featured six players in double figures.

McDonald led NKU with 23 points against Detroit Mercy, and Sharpe added 20 points for the Norse. Sharpe tied a career high by draining five 3-pointers against the Detroit Mercy zone. Tate finished with 11 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, three blocks and two steals.

Friday, Jan. 11

BB&T Arena (9,400), Highland Heights, Ky.

Wright State (8-9, 2-2 HL) at NKU (13-4, 3-1 HL), 7 p.m.

NKU Radio: ESPN 1530 (1530 AM)

Series Record: WSU leads, 23-10

Last Meeting: WSU 69, NKU 67 (Feb. 16, 2018)

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