HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Drew McDonald’s phone wouldn’t stop buzzing inside the Little Caesars Arena locker room late Monday night.
Some 90 text messages poured in with either congratulatory notes or social media links to his game-winning 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds left against Oakland in the Horizon League semifinal in Detroit.
In some ways, it was overwhelming for the Northern Kentucky University standout senior forward/center.
But, it was also a shot that helped to propel the Norse (26-8) to a Horizon League championship less than 24 hours later and an NCAA Tournament berth for the second time in three seasons.
“He has been the gold standard,” NKU coach John Brannen said. “He has been a guy who has done so much for this community, for this region, for this university and for this program."
Maybe it was fitting that McDonald lifted the Norse once again to the Big Dance.
As a sophomore, McDonald made a left-handed hook with a minute to go to put the Horizon League final out of reach in favor of the Norse and give NKU an NCAA Tournament berth in 2017.
But, Monday night topped them all.
McDonald just made the most clutch shot of his standout collegiate career but vowed to try to stay off his phone as a long as he could especially with a quick turnaround Tuesday with the conference final against Wright State.
When he accidentally opened a tweet with a link to the replay, it was just the start of the social media bonanza.
As the clock neared midnight, the 2015 Newport Central Catholic graduate watched with delight the replay outside the media room with NKU coach John Brannen and ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla.
“We were inches away from being upset and the bus ride being totally different,” McDonald told WCPO Wednesday afternoon. “It’s the biggest shot of my career. Just to have that moment my senior year is special, and it’s something I am going to relive the rest of my life.”
Brannen considered calling a timeout at halfcourt Monday night on that final play, but thought the Norse had better flexibility to run the length of the court with nine seconds left.
The truth of the matter was McDonald was 1 of 9 from beyond the 3-point arc up until that point. But, when sophomore guard Jalen Tate brought the ball up the court he had the option of passing to McDonald. He did just that – with full confidence in his teammate as NKU trailed 63-61 before the final possession.
“I honestly didn’t know it was that contested,” McDonald said. “(Oakland guard Jaevin) Cumberland almost blocked the shot. I think I was so locked in that I felt wide open – that was my first thought honestly.”
Final score: NKU 64, Oakland 63. The celebration ensued. Yet, Brannen reminded them turn off their phones back at the team hotel. Wright State was waiting Tuesday night.
The shot would mean nothing if the Norse couldn’t win the conference championship.
After the team had pizza at 12:30 a.m., Tuesday, Tate watched the 1 a.m. SportsCenter clip and re-lived the moment. “It was a crazy experience,” he said.
McDonald finally turned his phone off 30 minutes later. He had seen enough of the snaps, tweets and Instagram posts for one night. But, he couldn’t sleep until 3 or 4 a.m. Other teammates couldn’t sleep until 5 or 6 a.m.
The adrenaline kept the Norse going and it lifted their spirits entering Tuesday’s game.
“We saw the shot go in and the look in our eyes was just different,” McDonald said. “We knew we escaped one. We almost gave one away. We escaped and we had a second life and we weren’t letting that go.”
Tate led the Norse with 17 points, five rebounds and four assists in the 77-66 win over Wright State Tuesday night. McDonald had 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists. He was also named the tournament MVP.
Another celebration started in the Motor City. The players watched the replay of the final on the way home Wednesday.
And when the bus arrived back on NKU’s campus, McDonald was the first player to greet the crowd with the hoisted trophy and one of the nets wrapped around his neck.
Brannen said NKU is just getting started. Who could doubt the Norse entering the selection show Sunday? Twenty-four hours in Detroit proved that.
“It’s a feeling unlike any other honestly,” Tate said. “It’s like that dream you have as a child watching the NCAA Tournament and winning a championship and being able to be put into these positions. It definitely means everything.”