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Wright State rebounds from setback in series opener, rallies for 77-71 victory over NKU on Saturday night

By Don Owen
NKyTribune sports editor

The ultimate irony of Wright State’s 77-71 victory over Northern Kentucky on Saturday night is the fact the Raiders departed BB&T Arena uncertain if they had captured the Horizon League regular-season championship.

That’s because the Horizon League opted to use a complicated formula to determine seedings for its postseason tournament rather than utilize winning percentage and common tiebreakers. The unbalanced schedules — direct results of canceled games due to the pandemic and no round-robin format — prompted the Horizon League’s decision on tournament seedings.

NKU freshman Marques Warrick draws a foul from Wright State’s Loudon Love during the second half on Saturday night at BB&T Arena. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

As a result, instead of celebrating a possible title on Saturday night, Wright State was forced to wait for the Horizon League to issue its final rankings — which were not available until late in the evening — to even know if it had passed Cleveland State for the regular-season title and No. 1 seed.

Cleveland State instead finished as the No. 1 seed in the ratings, while Wright State is No. 2. Oakland ended as the No. 3 seed, followed by No. 4 NKU and No. 5 Detroit Mercy.

NKU closed the regular season with a 13-10 overall record and an 11-7 mark in the Horizon League.

“I’d rather go back to what we did before, because I love the round-robin (schedule), both home and road,” NKU head coach Darrin Horn said. “Hopefully things can clear up and we can get back to that.”

Wright State and Cleveland State both finished 16-4 in Horizon League play. Cleveland State split a pair of games at Purdue Fort Wayne this weekend, while Wright State did the same at NKU.

The Norse defeated Wright State on Friday night, while Purdue Fort Wayne upset Cleveland State.

On Saturday, Wright State big men Grant Basile and Loudon Love combined for 39 points and 20 rebounds as the Raiders salvaged a split of the two-game series with NKU. Basile netted 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while Love added 18 points and 11 boards.

Tanner Holden chipped in 18 points for Wright State, which rallied from a 63-59 deficit with 6:28 remaining in the game. The Raiders closed with a game-ending 18-8 run to pull out the win and improve to 18-5 overall.

Wright State’s Loudon Love grabs an offensive rebound during the second half of the Raiders’ 77-71 win at NKU on Saturday night. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Marques Warrick led NKU with 21 points, the ninth time this season he has scored at least 20 points. Adrian Nelson pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds and added 10 points, while Bryson Langdon scored 16 points and dished out six assists.

Trevon Faulkner netted nine points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Norse, who earned a bye into the Horizon League quarterfinals and will host a game on March 2 against the highest-remaining seed that advances from the first round. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

What about using the formula instead of winning percentage?

“I think there’s some merit to it. A lot of the coaches were for it,” Horn said. “I was kind of neutral on it, to be honest with you. I think the one challenge is, the reasons why people have played and haven’t played in terms of that part of the formula. It’s not going to be uniform across the board.

“Some people haven’t played not because of their fault, but because of someone else. We had one program that just decided to take a pause on their own. It wasn’t COVID-related. There are some variables like that that are hard to distinguish.”

None of that matters now, though. It’s win and advance, or lose and begin preparing for the 2021-22 season.

“I think I’ve made my position on March pretty clear,” said Horn, who guided NKU to the Horizon League Tournament championship last season. “It doesn’t matter who you (play), you have to show up and play in March and be your best.”

Warrick, a Henry Clay High School graduate, has been the best freshman in the Horizon League this season. He is averaging 15.9 points per game going into the Horizon League Tournament. The Lexington native has also made a team-leading 48 shots from 3-point range.

“It’s been a lot better than I expected individually, but my goals are for the team,” Warrick said of his first season at NKU. “We’re getting better as we go into the tournament. We’ll have a week of practice to get ready for it, so that’s our focus.”

Horizon League Tournament seeding
1. Cleveland State (16-4)
2. Wright State (16-4)
3. Oakland (10-10)
4. Northern Kentucky (11-7)
5. Detroit Mercy (10-6)
6. Youngstown State (9-11)
7. Green Bay (8-12)
8. Milwaukee (7-10)
9. IUPUI (7-9)
10. Purdue Fort Wayne (6-14)
11. Illinois-Chicago (6-10)
12. Robert Morris (3-12)

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