With Grant Benzinger raining 3-pointers from spots all around the arc, all Wright State needed to pull off the sixth consecutive upset in the Horizon League tournament Sunday night was a couple of defensive stops.
But the Raiders couldn’t find one anywhere.
Northern Kentucky made 14 consecutive field goals over a 12-minute span in the second half to offset Benzinger’s career night for an 82-77 triumph at Joe Louis Arena.
“We did everything we could, but when you give up 66 percent shooting in the second half, it’s pretty tough to win,” WSU coach Scott Nagy said.
With their third win against the Raiders in 29 days, the fourth-seeded Norse (22-10) are the highest remaining seed in what has been a wacky start to the tournament.
NKU will face No. 9 Youngstown State in Monday’s first semifinal, while No. 6 Illinois-Chicago will take on No. 10 Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the night cap.
Wright State ends its first season under Nagy at 20-12 despite Benzinger doing everything he could to extend it.
The junior guard hit six of his first nine 3-pointers and finished with a career-high seven on 14 attempts to lead all scorers with 29 points.
“It doesn’t matter right now; Mike and Steve-0, it’s their last games ever and it’s a terrible feeling for us underclassmen that we couldn’t get the job done for them,” Benzinger said of seniors Mike La Tulip and Steven Davis.
A Benzinger trey knotted the game at 44-44 with 11:13 remaining, but that was when the Norse were just one field goal into their remarkable run 14 in row that helped them build an 11-point lead with 1:54 to go.
Carson Williams, a member of the HL all-freshman team, had five of the field goals in that stretch to lead NKU with 17 points, while junior guard Lavone Holland had three buckets during the run to finish with 16.
Holland also had a game-high nine assists, with most of them coming on post feeds to Williams.
“Carson was outstanding around the interior and made some plays that really started opening up things on the perimeter for Lavone,” said NKU’s John Brannen, the HL Coach of the Year. “We started getting our inside-outside game going, and we were able to hold the lead down the stretch.”
The under-sized Raiders outrebounded NKU 24-13 in the first half, but they committed 10 turnovers to go into the break down 29-27.
“It was a miracle we were only down two at half with 10 turnovers and shooting 38 percent,” Nagy said.
NKU outrebounded the Raiders 19-14 in the second half in addition to making 18 of 27 shots to move one step closer to an NCAA berth in their first year of eligibility since reclassifying from Division II.
Junior guard Mark Alstork added 22 points for the Raiders, while junior guard Justin Mitchell had 12 points and a game-high 12 rebounds to go along with seven assists.
“It’s disappointing because those seniors, Steven Davis and Mike, they gave us everything they could and we wanted to win a championship for both of them and for coach Nagy and the coaching staff in their first year here,” Mitchell said.
Nagy led WSU to 20 regular-season wins for the first time since 2007-08.
“I loved coaching these guys and I’m super proud of them,” Nagy said. “I think really we overachieved massively, to be honest, because we just had so many warts. We don’t have great size, we don’t have a point guard and our kids just fought all year.”