Last-Second Three Puts Northern Kentucky in Horizon League Finals
Senior Drew McDonald nailed a three-point shot with 1.6 seconds left to lift Northern Kentucky over Oakland, 64-63, in the Horizon League semifinals on Monday night.
The Norse will now face Wright State in the conference tournament championship with the winner heading to the NCAA Tournament.
Monday night's game at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit looked similar to last season's opening round game when NKU, then the top seed, was shocked by Cleveland State, which ran up the scoreboard early and never let the Norse get close.
But the magic in Detroit that NKU fans remember from the remarkable 2017 season when the Norse cut down the nets after winning the tournament and earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament, reemerged before the first half concluded.
The Golden Grizzlies pulled away early on Monday night, running up a lead of 17 points as NKU struggled to make shots.
But the Norse had a run of their own, outscoring Oakland 11-0 during one stretch and pulling within six, 28-22, with 6:11 to play before the half ended.
Tyler Sharpe landed a three-point basket to tie the game at 37 at the break.
As the second half got underway, McDonald scored six unanswered points to give Northern Kentucky its first lead, 43-41 with 16:19 to play. Then, NKU began to run up the lead.
Leading 49-48 with 10:57 left to play, the Norse used a 9-0 run to build a double-digit lead.
NKU would lead by as much as 12 before it was all over.
Then, it was Oakland's turn to come back.
The Golden Grizzlies scored 13 unanswered points late in the game to take the lead 63-61 with 9.1 seconds left.
With hopes of making a return trip to the Big Dance on the line, NKU's final play pushed the ball up the court before it landed in the hands of its senior leader McDonald.
Earlier in the season, he became NKU's all-time leading scorer.
What followed may be the most important three of them all.
McDonald's three-point shot was nothing but net, giving NKU the lead again, 64-63, with 1.9 seconds left. A desperate heave to the basket by Oakland from the other end of the court was way off target, and the game was over.
Northern Kentucky (25-8), the #2 seed in the tournament, will now face #1-seed Wright State in the finals on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
McDonald led the Norse with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Jalen Tate scored 14 and Tyler Sharpe added 10. Chris Vogt put up a strong defensive game, and scored 8 points to go with 7 rebounds. Dantez Walton also added 8 points and 4 rebounds.
-Michael Monks, editor & publisher
Photo via NKU