#HLMBB Tourney Semifinals – Wright State and Northern Kentucky Advance

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Tuesday’s Horizon League Tournament finals are all set, with Wright State and Northern Kentucky set to duke it out one more time for a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Raiders triumphed of Cleveland State in the first match-up, while Northern Kentucky overpowered Purdue Fort Wayne on defense to win, 57-34, snapping the Mastodons’ 10-game winning streak.

Wright State 82, Cleveland State 67

Wright State used a combination of toughness in the paint, courtesy of Grant Basile, and hot three-point shooting to eliminate the No. 1 seed, Cleveland State, 82-67, to advance.

“I think if you look at some of our games, and when we get going early, we’re tough to stop,” Basile said. “We’ve been down lately, so just to get some easy ones is nice.”

“Those are situations that we put ourselves in and we didn’t make enough plays without the ball in our hands,” CSU coach Dennis Gates said. “And that’s the situation that Wright State was able to kind of exploit us on and they did a good job.”

From the start, the Raiders were on as mission, using Grant Basile and AJ Braun in the paint, then switching to the three-point arc, where they rattled off five straight.

Cleveland State cut the lead to four, then went without a field goal for the last 5:57 in the first half, allowing Wright State to take a 10-point advantage at halftime.

It would be another three minutes before the Vikings made another basket, by which time the Raiders increased their lead to 43-26. Cleveland State cut the lead to seven twice in the second half, but Wright State was just too much down the stretch. To make matters worse, the Vikings went on another cold streak, while the Raiders just kept going to seal the win.

Basile finished the game with a double-double, scoring a game-high 27 points and grabbing 11 boards. Despite fouling out, Tanner Holden also notched a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman Keaton Norris also chipped in 10 points for Wright State. Cleveland State was led by D’Moi Hodge, who finished with 16 points.

While an NCAA bid is not in the cards for the Vikings, as the regular season champ, they will have more basketball to play, as they automatically qualify for the NIT.

Northern Kentucky 57, Purdue Fort Wayne 43

From the outset, it appears that perhaps NKU and Purdue Fort Wayne would have an old-fashioned shootout, specifically from the beyond the arc, which has been a Mastodon trademark. However, Purdue Fort Wayne’s prowess behind the three-point line disappeared, giving the Norse the advantage to impose its will, leading to the Mastodon’s lowest scoring total this season.

“A grind-it-out game in March where you just got to find a way to win,” said Northern Kentucky head coach Darren Horn. “And we knew it was going to be a big challenge and I’m really proud of our guys because just to be honest with you, this is not the kind of game that could have grinded out and won in the past. But over the last several months that mentality and that toughness have been building.”

“Tonight, I’ll take my hat off to Darren and Northern Kentucky did a phenomenal job getting us out of the flow,” Purdue Fort Wayne head coach Jon Coffman said. “And we struggled to score the ball, which is something that in my eight year has not been an issue many times, and that really gives credit to what they did.”

The Mastodons kept the game close in the first half despite the fact that they shot 0-for-12 from three, keeping the Norse to a 25-19 lead. But NKU kept Purdue Fort Wayne at arm’s length for the duration of the second half, fueled by Marques Warrick, who finished with 19 points, and a 1-2 punch on the boards with Chris Brandon, who grabbed 14 rebounds, and Adrian Nelson, who took nine.

Northern Kentucky and Wright State are set to play at 7pm at Indiana Farmers Coliseum on Tuesday for the tournament finale, which will be aired on ESPN. The Norse swept the series in the regular season, beating the Raiders 73-63 on January 25th and 75-71 on February 13th.

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