The Final Horizon
by Aaron Lynn
It’s been a wild week in the Horizon League. Green Bay knocked off their rivals Milwaukee despite a 2-24 record heading into the contest. Wright State used an offensive explosion in the second half to down their rivals Northern Kentucky 83-65. Youngstown State saw their five game win streak come to a close. With just two weeks remaining until the 2023 Horizon League Tournament tips off on February 28, here’s what you need to know about the final two weeks of the regular season.
Wright State Heating Up
Coach Scott Nagy adjusted his starting lineup ahead of a showdown against the top team in the Horizon at the time, the Milwaukee Panthers. The Raiders grabbed a 93-86 upset victory and have since rattled off wins in five of their last six games since the lineup change with the lone loss coming at the hands of Youngstown State in triple overtime.
We had the opportunity to cover Wright State’s last game against Northern Kentucky. The stage was set for a big game: senior night, a pumped up crowd, and a nationally televised 9 PM tip. The energy in the Nutter Center was palpable. The Raiders opened on an 8-0 run and held the Norse scoreless for nearly five minutes to open the game. Eventually, Northern Kentucky found their footing and even took a brief lead. They cut the halftime deficit to just three after Trey Robinson buried a triple right as the halftime buzzer sounded.
There were a lot of positive signs for Wright State at the break. They were cutting through the tough Northern Kentucky zone with relative ease. With a physical advantage inside, both Brandon Noel and A.J. Braun were gobbling up rebounds and finding easy looks at the rim. As it turns out, they were just getting started.
Entering the game, Northern Kentucky was the top defensive team in the Horizon, using their aggressive matchup zone to force over 16 turnovers a game, ranking 10th in the nation in turnovers per possession. You wouldn’t have known it from the second half. The Raiders opened up a double digit lead with 10 minutes to play and a 25-6 run swiftly shut the door on the visiting Norse. Wright State committed just two turnovers in the final 20 minutes and shot a blistering 71.4% from the field in the half. Brandon Noel finished a perfect shooting night with 17 points after connecting on 7/7 field goals and 3/3 free throws. Trey Calvin chipped in a team-high 23 points on senior night including his second career dunk.
Nagy was obviously pleased with the offense, but was especially encouraged by the defensive effort from his team.
“I thought defensively we were good, we were sharp, our players executed a good game plan… I’m mostly pleased with our defense, that’s where we’ve made the biggest jump and it’s why we’ve been playing so much better.”
The Raiders might be out of the conference championship race, but they still have an opportunity to reach a top-four seed and host a quarterfinal game in the Horizon League tournament. Nagy’s squad has continued to build momentum and may very well be poised for another magical March run.
Youngstown State made the most of their recent four-game home stand with wins over Oakland, Detroit Mercy, Wright State, and Northern Kentucky and added a road victory over Purdue-Fort Wayne. But the Cleveland State Vikings got the best of the Penguins on Sunday in a thrilling 81-78 finish. The good news for Youngstown State is that most of the other top teams in the conference have lost one if not two games in the past few days. The Penguins hold the top seed in the conference with a 12-4 Horizon League record alongside Milwaukee who is now also 12-4 following a three point victory against Oakland. A February 16 matchup between the Penguins and Panthers from the Beeghly Center in Youngstown, Ohio will go a long way in deciding the regular season champion. The Penguins are looking for their first regular season title since joining the Division I ranks back in 1981. Meanwhile, the Panthers are looking for their 5th Horizon League title and their first since 2011.
Northern Kentucky and Cleveland State are also right in the mix at 11-5. Cleveland State’s victory over Youngstown State propelled them back into consideration, but the Vikings must still face Wright State, Northern Kentucky, and Milwaukee. Meanwhile, the Norse got back in the win column against IUPUI but must now endure a four-game road trip to close out the regular season.
Player of the Year
To begin any player of the year discussion in the Horizon League, you have to start with Antoine Davis, college basketball’s leading scorer and the co-player of the year in 2021-22. The Detroit Mercy star recently broke the record for most threes made in a career and ranks second in all-time scoring behind only “Pistol Pete” Maravich. Davis is currently averaging a career-high 27.7 points per game and he’s shooting the three at a near-42% clip. While Davis likely has the award under wraps, it’s worth mentioning some other impressive performers from around the Horizon League this season.
Dwayne Cohill has helped lead Youngstown State to perhaps their greatest season in school history since joining Division I. Cohill is a smooth operator, combining impressive athleticism and physical play with a sweet stroke from deep (48.2%). He’s also the team’s leader in assists (4.9) and steals (1.5). He averages 18.1 points per game and is a big reason why the Penguins are the league’s best offense.
After his heroics in March, Trey Calvin is currently scoring 20.1 points per game in his senior season with Wright State. Calvin routinely makes difficult shots and you find a more clutch shooter in the league.
There’s a lot more that could be said about the Horizon League and there is a lot more that will be written in the next two weeks. If you’re a fan of mid-major college basketball, you’ll be hard pressed to find a conference as intriguing and exciting as the Horizon League.