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With first place at stake, NKU prepares for Horizon League showdown at Wright State on Friday night

By Don Owen
NKyTribune reporter

A huge crowd is expected at the Nutter Center on Friday night when Northern Kentucky University and Wright State square off in a Horizon League showdown at Fairborn, Ohio.

NKU is 20-6 overall and atop the Horizon League standings with a 10-3 record. Wright State is 15-11 overall and a game behind NKU, sporting a 9-4 mark in the Horizon League.

NKU’s Tyler Sharpe averages 14.3 points per game and leads the team in 3-pointers made with 67. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

The two teams met earlier this season at BB&T Arena in front of a crowd of 5,848, with NKU pulling out a 68-64 win over Wright State. A year ago in the Nutter Center, 7,205 fans watched Wright State post a 69-67 victory over NKU.

“It’s turned into a really great rivalry game for the two best fan bases in the league,” NKU head coach John Brannen said. “Two teams fighting for the top of the league in multiple years and right down the road from each other, and it’s on (national) TV. It’s a rivalry that’s been good for the league, been good for us, and good for them as well. These are the games you want to play in and coach in.”

Wright State features sophomore center Loudon Love, who averages 15 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-9 Love has connected on 50.5 percent of his attempts from the field and leads the Raiders with 25 blocked shots.

Junior forward Bill Wampler is scoring 14.4 points per contest for the Raiders and has buried 52 shots from 3-point range. Junior guard Cole Gentry averages 12.7 points per game and leads the team with 85 assists.

“They’re a great program, and their record speaks for itself,” Brannen said. “They are very disciplined, don’t hurt themselves and play well together.”

NKU is led by senior forward Drew McDonald, who averages 19 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. McDonald was named the Horizon League Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 20.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in two wins while shooting 71 percent (17-of-24) from the floor and 64 percent (7-of-11) from 3-point range.

“It’s a big opponent, and more on the line than the typical regular-season game,” McDonald said of Friday’s showdown. “We’re just preparing the same way. When it comes time to play after a good week of practice, we’re going to be locked in and focused. And it’s going to be a fun atmosphere to play in.”

McDonald ranks fourth in NKU history with 1,926 career points, and he is the all-time rebounding leader with 1,020 boards. The Cold Spring native is one of just five active players in the 1,900-point, 1,000-rebound club in Division I.

NKU junior guard Tyler Sharpe averages 14.3 points per game and leads the team in 3-pointers made with 67. He also tops the Norse with 37 steals.

“I think in a game like this, when you’re going into this kind of environment and with it being such a big game, it’s even more important to rely on the same preparation and the habits we’ve developed through practice,” Sharpe said. “It’s going to be a great atmosphere up there. Wright State is very disciplined and a well-coached team.

“They do a great job of taking advantage your mistakes, which is something I feel like we do as well. You have to be ready to play and execute because teams like Wright State don’t let you get away with mistakes.”

Wright State leads the all-time series with NKU by a 23-11 margin. Since NKU joined the Horizon League, the series is tied at 4-4. Friday night’s game will be televised live on ESPNU at 9 p.m.

NKU’s Trevon Faulkner finishes with a dunk during a win against Detroit Mercy. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

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