Standings steady at the top, chaotic throughout
This weekend, the Horizon League’s men’s basketball teams seemed to be following the lead that has been set on the women’s side for much of the season. Of the six series this weekend, five ended in sweeps. Because of this, things remained steady at the top of the league, but across the board there were significant shakeups.
Here’s a rundown of what happened this weekend:
Nothing changed at the top of the Horizon League standings, with both Cleveland State and Wright State getting through the weekend unscathed. Oakland and Northern Kentucky rode undefeated weekends to league records above .500. Milwaukee remained a game above .500 with a weekend split. Detroit Mercy continued its dramatic rise since ending a COVID-19 related stoppage, while UIC was swept by NKU to drop to .500. After being swept, both Green Bay and PFW are officially out of the running for a Horizon League Regular Season Title.
Weekly Award Predictions
Antoine Davis of Detroit Mercy put up a pair of strong performances that make him my pick for Horizon League Men’s Basketball Player of the Week. He averaged 24.5 points, 6 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game with an effective field goal percentage of 53.6.
Oakland’s Trey Townsend should be an easy choice for Men’s Basketball Freshman of the Week. The 6-foot-6 forward averaged 15.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game for Oakland to help the Golden Grizzlies to a pair of wins over Purdue Fort Wayne.
On the Women’s side, Carissa Garcia‘s 21 points per game against previously 12-0 Milwaukee were pivotal for Northern Kentucky pulling off a weekend sweep and confirming it’s still a force in the Horizon League despite a long pause due to COVID-19. The strong performance should make her the obvious choice for Women’s Basketball Player of the Week. Cleveland State’s Destiny Leo averaged 19.5 points on efficient shooting to help lead the Vikings to a sweep of Oakland in an effort likely to see her named Freshman of the Week.
Cleveland State vs. Green Bay
The Vikings moved to 12-2 in Horizon League play with a weekend sweep of Green Bay. On Friday, the Vikings trailed for most of the first half before a Tre Gomillion 3-pointer took them to the break up 39-38. From there, the Vikings held the lead for the entire second half, but could never break away from Green Bay. CSU eventually came away with a 74-68 win. On Saturday, it looked like the Vikings would take a page out of Wright State’s playbook. Cleveland State led 41-23 at the half in a game that looked to be on its way to being a blowout before a gradual Green Bay Rally brought them within three points at 56-53 with 5:15 to play. From there, Green Bay’s rally fell short and the Vikings pulled away for a 73-65 win.
While he wasn’t the star of the weekend for CSU, Al Eichelberger’s performance on Saturday is undoubtedly an encouraging one for the Vikings. Eichelberger scored 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting and grabbed five rebounds in the win. The Preseason All-Horizon League Second Team pick has been hampered by injuries this year. He’s been playing from off of the bench all season and currently averages 5.7 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. Saturday was the first time all year he reached double-figures. If he can build off of this game, Cleveland State could be even deeper than it has been down the stretch.
With the loss, Green Bay dropped to 5-9 in the Horizon League. Amari Davis did still manage to star for the Phoenix, averaging 28 points on 62.5 percent shooting from the field. Davis is averaging 18.6 points per game in Horizon League play. This weekend, he went 2-for-6 from beyond the 3-point arc. On the season, he’s shooting slightly better than that from long range after going his entire freshman season without making a shot from deep.
Wright State vs. Robert Morris
With Robert Morris star A.J. Bramah out of the lineup, Wright State rolled with relative ease to a 2-0 weekend. On Friday, the Raiders beat RMU 79-70 in a game televised nationally on ESPNU. RMU started the game hot, taking a 12-2 lead before Wright State charged back to take the lead at 18-17. Wright State maintained the lead but couldn’t shake the Colonials until the final 10 minutes. From there, RMU never got within possessions when it had the ball for the rest of the game. The nine-point win was Wright State’s first single-digit victory in league play. On Saturday, the Raiders played like the team has following a loss in league play, jumping out to a double-digit lead in the first 10 minutes of the first half and never looking back in an 86-56 win.
While the Raiders had enough to get through the weekend unscathed, a major difference in the two performances was the offensive play of Loudon Love. In Friday’s win, Love struggled with shooting more than he has all season. He shot 3-for-12 from the field, scoring just seven points. He more than made up for it on Saturday with a 15-for-22 shooting night and a new career-high 34 points.
With Bramah sidelined, Kahliel Spear stepped into the lineup for the Colonials. He immediately shined on Friday, shooting 7-for-9 from the field and scoring 18 points. Like the rest of the team, he struggled offensively on Saturday. He finished with just five points and five rebounds on 2-for-7 shooting from the field. Given that the verbiage that has come out about Bramah’s absence seems to point to something related to COVID-19, Spear may need to play like he did on Friday for the Colonials next weekend.
Northern Kentucky vs. UIC
Northern Kentucky entered the season with serious question marks about size, while UIC’s frontcourt figured to be a strong point since before Luke Yaklich reloaded the Flames’ roster. As a result, it’s beyond surprising that NKU wasn’t overwhelmed in the paint and was able to come away with a pair of close victories. The Norse took the lead for good just a little over halfway into the first half on Friday, but despite jumping out to a 37-23 lead early in the second half the game was anything but decided. UIC battled back and the two teams traded baskets into the final minute before NKU survived a free throw shooting contest to win 72-68. There were a lot of similarities between Friday’s game and Saturday’s. On Saturday, NKU trialed for just a minute and a half after the 12:56 mark in the first half, winning 69-67 thanks to Bryson Langdon’s heroics – and his game-winning shot – with a second to play.
Trevon Faulkner led the Norse in scoring in both games over the weekend. He averaged 20 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. While Faulkner is currently first on the team in points and steals and second in rebounds, one thing that is holding him back from being acknowledged as one of the Horizon League’s biggest stars is his efficiency. If Faulkner can improve on his effective field goal percentage of 45.7 or his assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.73.
Despite the losses, Maurice Commander’s momentum from a strong game two Saturdays ago carried into this weekend’s games against NKU. Commander averaged 13.0 points and 3.0 assists with an effective field goal percentage of 63.9. With Rayquawndis Mitchell seemingly working his way back into the rotation, Luke Yaklich’s first UIC team might be able to pick up where Steve McClain’s last one left off as a strong candidate to build up some steam late in league play.
Oakland vs. Purdue Fort Wayne
Purdue Fort Wayne’s once promising start to Horizon League play continued to go in the wrong direction as Oakland completed a weekend sweep of the Mastodons. OU took the lead with 15:16 to play in the first half and never looked back, stretching it to 24-11 in what would eventually be an 81-66 victory. Oddly, although Saturday’s game was a closer competition the Golden Grizzlies took a permanent lead even earlier, scoring the basket that would put the team ahead for good just over three minutes in.
Jalen Moore led the OU in points and assists in both games, averaging 20 points and 6.5 assists per contest. It wasn’t his most efficient weekend of the season, with an effective field goal percentage of 46.0. Nonetheless, it should help him maintain his status as a top candidate for a First Team All-League selection.
With another pair of losses, Purdue Fort Wayne dropped to 5-9 in Horizon League play amidst its current four-game slide. One common theme in each of its last four games – as well as its previous two losses before the current losing streak – is a lack of scoring from Jarred Godfrey. Godfrey – who began his first season in the Horizon League on an absolute tear – averaged an inefficient 11.0 points per game this weekend. If Godfrey can’t find his shot anytime soon, it could be a difficult end to the season for the Mastodons.
Milwaukee vs. IUPUI
Even if you don’t agree with Matt’s take on last weekend’s podcast that nobody in the league would beat a team four times in one regular season, surely it’s understandable that a team wasn’t going to be able to hold Marcus Burk to four underwhelming performances in one regular season. As a result, it’s probably not a shock that Milwaukee and IUPUI came away with the lone split series of the weekend. The Jaguars jumped out to a three-possession lead early on Friday and forced Milwaukee to play a game of catch-up that the Panthers weren’t able to win, with IUPUI eventually prevailing 73-68. Saturday looked like it might be heading in the same direction as IUPUI got out to an early 19-6 lead. But this time Milwaukee did have a chance to battle back, completing the comeback with a go-ahead free throw at the 12:22 mark in the second half to lead 51-50. Milwaukee ballooned the lead out to six points at 59-53, and never trailed again. The teams traded baskets down the stretch, with the Panthers eventually prevailing 83-76.
This weekend, the Panthers went as far as DeAndre Gholston could take them. When Gholston went 3-for-8 from the field and scored 10 points, it resulted in a disappointing loss to an IUPUI team that would otherwise be in sole possession of last place. When he went 8-for-15 from the field and scored 24 points, that meant a bounce-back victory on Saturday. In his first season for the Panthers, Gholston has been a very consistent performer. He’s scored double figures in 11 of 13 games this season.
IUPUI’s star Burk was on the opposite end of a similar situation as Gholston this weekend. On Friday, he erupted for 26 points on 10-for-18 shooting to carry the Jaguars to a win. He scored 19 points on Saturday, but did it while shooting 5-for-18 from the field in the loss. This season, Burk is averaging 20.0 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of 54.7. Burk’s current play is worthy of at least a repeat selection as Second Team All-League, but if the Jaguars can tally a few more wins First Team might not be out of reach.
Detroit Mercy vs. Youngstown State
Detroit Mercy and Youngstown State continued to see their seasons head in opposite directions this weekend as the Titans swept the Penguins. Both games played out fairly similarly, with the Titans jumping out to a multiple-possession lead in the middle of the first half before a back-and-forth contest that was up in the air until the final moments. On Friday, the Titans got the lead for good at 76-73 with 48 seconds to play before winning 78-75. On Saturday, the go-ahead bucked dropped with 43 seconds to play and Detroit Mercy ahead 73-72 en route to a 77-72 win.
As previously stated, Davis should be on his way to a Horizon League Player of the Week award following an outstanding weekend. Three weeks ago his season might’ve warranted some consideration for Third Team All-League, but not much else. After six games where he’s averaged an efficient 27 points per game, he’d likely be at least a Second Team All-League selection if the season ended today. If he keeps playing like this and the Titans keep winning, First Team All-League is still very much in play.
Following the sweep, Youngstown State has officially lost more Horizon League games in 14 attempts than it did all last year in 18. The absence of Preseason First Team All-League guard Darius Quisenberry undoubtedly impacted the team’s season, but with Naz Bohannon stepping up into a player whose production would warrant First Team All-League consideration on a better team it’s still a shocking turn of events. Both the HoriZone Roundtable and the Horizon League picked Youngstown State second in the preseason. Bohannon’s well-rounded offensive arsenal was on display again this weekend, even though he struggled to assert himself offensively on Friday. He averaged 13 points, nine rebounds and six assists for the weekend.