Steven Wright drives past Grand Valley State center Callistus
Eziukwu on Tuesday night. The Norse dropped a 66-42 decision
to the Lakers in the championship game of the NCAA Division
II Great Lakes Region Tournament at Findlay, Ohio.
- Just like that, only a few miles from where his college basketball
career began, Steven Wright’s brief but memorable stay with
Northern Kentucky University ended Tuesday night.
best all-around player in Norse men’s basketball history,
and definitely the greatest one-year performer in the program’s
36 seasons of competition, Wright could not save NKU from suffering
a 66-42 loss to No. 7 Grand Valley State in the championship game
of the NCAA Division II Great Lakes Region Tournament.
The Norse, who
finished with a 24-9 record, shot just 22.2 percent from the field
and were 6-for-32 from 3-point range. In the second half, NKU was
7-for-37 from the field (18.9 percent) and 1-for-17 in its 3-point
State (29-4) won the rebounding battle by a 49-35 count and earned
the trip to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight in Springfield, Mass.
played three years at Bowling Green State before transferring to
NKU this season, earned Great Lakes Valley Conference Player of
the Year honors and has been the focal point of the Norse this winter.
But the 6-foot-3 NKU highlight machine could only do so much against
a powerful Grand Valley State team that two days earlier had knocked
off GLVC Tournament champion Southern Indiana in the regional semifinals.
Valley State is a great defensive team, and they made it hard to
get the ball,” said Wright, who scored nine points and grabbed
eight rebounds in his NKU career finale. “This has been a
new beginning to my life by coming to Northern Kentucky. From last
August until now has been the best time of my life during my college
career, and I have never met such great people.
at the GLVC Tournament, I never had experienced being around people
that care about you as a person like that. We would order pizza,
sit around and talk, and this has been so different than where I
entered the championship game averaging 17.1 points, was 3-for-16
from the field Tuesday night.
is such a talented athlete - he can score from the outside, he can
drive the ball. The more open space that he has, the better off
he’s going to be,” Grand Valley State head coach Ric
Wesley said. “So we did everything we could to try to keep
him on the side, try to keep him on the outer third of the floor,
so at least he didn’t have so much room to work with.”
7-footer James Cripe throws down a dunk over 6-10 Dan Redder
of Grand Valley State. Cripe scored eight points and grabbed
eight rebounds for NKU, which finished with a 24-9 record
this season. The Norse also advanced to the regional title
deeper Lakers utilized the inside play of 6-10 twin towers Callistus
Eziukwu (17 points, seven rebounds, four blocked shots) and Dan
Redder (seven points, three rebounds and one block) to control the
lane. Grand Valley State also received 17 points from guard Pete
Trammell, who entered the game averaging 5.7 ppg.
Valley State is the best team we played this year, and I am sure
our guys will attest to that,” NKU head coach Dave Bezold
said. “I don’t know how they lost a game this season.
They are a fantastic team, and they did a great job shutting us
down with their defense.
I told our guys during our last timeout they did a great job of
getting us here, we are not going to remember them for this game.
This is not their footprint on this program, but the fact they won
24 games, stopped the nation’s longest home winning streak
at 59 games and took us to the regional championship game is how
they will be remembered.
put Northern Kentucky back on the map nationally in men’s
basketball, and they should be applauded.”
State owned a 28-22 lead at the break, but the Lakers used a 16-4
run early in the second half to build a 44-29 lead and were never
threatened again. Eziukwu, who was named the tournament’s
most valuable player, keyed the run with nine points.
are really tough inside, some of the best post players we have seen
this year,” NKU center James Cripe said. “Anytime you
go up for a shot inside, they are not far behind and you have to
think about it.”
Unable to find
the range from the outside, NKU watched as Grand Valley State led
by as many as 27 points in the second half.
so frustrated, we were just throwing it up there,” NKU senior
guard Kevin Schappell said. “Our shooting percentage was awful
led NKU with 12 points in his final game for the Norse. The 6-5
senior drained a trio of 3-pointers in the first half, but, after
David McFarland hit a trey to begin the second 20 minutes, NKU proceeded
to miss its next 16 attempts from behind the arc.
went cold, but don’t take away anything from Grand Valley’s
defense, because it was very good,” said Teague.
Wright, a graduate
of Dayton Colonel White High School who thrilled Norse fans with
his assortment of dunks and acrobatic shots this season, made his
final field goal as an NKU basketball player one to remember. He
attacked the basket from the right baseline and was challenged by
two Laker defenders as he soared to the hoop. At that point, Wright
double-clutched in mid-air, glided past the defenders to the left
side of the basket and spun in an outrageous, how-can-anyone-from-this-planet-possibly-do-that
reverse layup with 1:44 left in the game. That shot even made the
Grand Valley State players shake their heads in disbelief and smile.
A few seconds
later, Schappell, Wright, Cripe and Teague took their final bows
and received standing ovations from the NKU faithful.
A year ago,
NKU and Grand Valley State split a pair of regular-season games.
The two teams met in the first round of the 2001 NCAA Division II
Great Lakes Region Tournament at Owensboro, Ky., and the Norse escaped
with a wild 106-102 victory over the Lakers in the Owensboro Sportscenter.
It marked NKU’s
first trip to the NCAA Division II Tournament since the 2002-03