A third-place team emerging?
Wright State and Cleveland State maintained pace at the top of the Horizon League, but now it’s starting to look like Northern Kentucky is emerging as a third team destined for a first round bye in the league tournament. While the Norse still have a pair of games against Wright State, the team is currently riding a six-game win streak and sits four games above .500.
Once again, there were five sweeps out of six series this weekend.
Here’s a look at how that changed the league’s outlook:
With three of the teams that entered the weekend at or above .500 in league play being swept, there were pretty significant changes in this week’s standings. Northern Kentucky and Detroit Mercy continued to surge, with the Norse now seemingly in a great position for a first round bye. The Titans figure to battle with in-state rival Oakland for the fourth bye, with Milwaukee and UIC still in the mix. Youngstown State started a climb out of the bottom of the standings that could still conceivably wind up with the Penguins at .500 in league play.
|Purdue Fort Wayne||5-11|
Preseason Horizon League Player of the Year Loudon Love had arguably his best weekend since Wright State took on Detroit Mercy in mid-December. Love averaged 20.5 points and 11 rebonds per game in the two contests against UIC. While it’s difficult to argue with awarding Horizon League Player of the Year to a defending POTY that’s averaging over 15 points and 10 rebounds per game, Wright State has three players putting up consistent star performances. If Love keeps weekends like this one up, those arguments are probably over.
Marques Warrick should cruise to another Horizon League Freshman of the Week award after averaging 18.5 points and 4.5 assists per game against Milwaukee this weekend. Warrick is averaging just under 17 points per game in Horizon League play this year, and has only grown his Freshman of the Year lead since the midway point of the season.
Angel Baker picked an incredible time to show why she was a Preseason First Team All-Horizon League pick, averaging 27.5 points with an incredible 59.5 effective field goal percentage in a weekend sweep of Milwaukee that gave Wright State first place in the league standings.
Nneka Obiazor had another outstanding weekend and is likely on her way to another Horizon League Freshman of the week on the women’s side. Obiazor averaged 14.5 points and 8 rebounds per game in just 20 minutes per game. Obiazor is tied for the team lead in scoring with 2019 First Team All-League pick and fifth year senior Mary Dunn. Obiazor is also the team’s top rebounder, maintaining a 2.5 rebound per game lead on Dunn with 8.7 per game.
Cleveland State vs. Oakland
Cleveland State remained undefeated in Horizon League play, but not without some nerve-wracking moments and some controversy. On Friday, the Vikings looked to be on the way to a comfortable win with a 46-33 halftime lead. But in what’s becoming a trend so frequent it’s expected, the team gave up a big second half run and allowed Oakland to pull within five points at 77-72. Fortunately for CSU, this week the opponent’s run was too late in the game and the Vikings held on 80-72. On Saturday the Vikings led for virtually all 40 minutes, but needed a bizarre ending to avoid going to overtime. CSU led 80-78 when Oakland’s Kevin Kangu appeared to tie the game in the waning seconds, but it turned out the clock started early and the play had to be redone. OU turned it over and the Vikings held for the 80-78 win.
Torrey Patton continued his run of quiet but excellent performances, tallying 16.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game for the Vikings. Patton’s offense remains a key indicator in CSU’s success. Dating back to the start of the season, Cleveland State is 1-4 in games where he fails to score double-figures and 13-1 in games where he gets at least 10 points.
Daniel Oladapo averaged 15.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game for the Golden Grizzlies, remaining another one of the most quietly consistent players in the league. The 6-foot-7 forward is five rebounds short of averaging a double-double in Horizon League play, currently sitting at 13.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.
Wright State vs. UIC
After UIC served as a serious thorn in Wright State’s side for the last two years, it seems that a new-look Flames roster doesn’t pose nearly the same problems for the Raiders. Wright State cruised to a weekend sweep on the back of the defending Horizon League Player of the Year. On Friday, UIC never pulled within single digits during the second half of a 72-47 Wright State win. UIC fared slightly better on Saturday, but very slightly. The Flames went into half down 36-29 and kept the deficit to less than 10 points until the 18:25 mark of the second half when Wright State rolled for a 77-57 win.
While Loudon Love shot 50 percent or better in both games, his success from the free throw line might’ve been his most notable shooting percentage of the series. Love boosted his free throw shooting by almost three percent on a weekend where he shot more than twice as many per game as he’s averaged this season. If Love is going to take over and claim Horizon League Player of the Year on merits instead of seniority, it’s going to take assertiveness like he showed this weekend down the stretch.
A big part of the reason Wright State came away with a pair of blowout wins despite just one player having multiple strong offensive performances was the Raiders’ ability to shut down UIC star Teyvion Kirk. Kirk averaged 9.5 points per game on 30 percent shooting from the field. He was able to keep his turnover numbers down, but still finished the weekend with six turnovers compared to four assists.
Northern Kentucky vs. Milwaukee
Northern Kentucky earned a sweep over Milwaukee, with both games being fairly straightforward. On Friday, the first half was a back-and-forth one that went to halftime tied at 43. The Norse started the second half on a 9-0 run and held the lead throughout, eventually winning 87-73. Saturday the run started a little earlier, with NKU building a five-point lead at halftime and more gradually extending it after the half in a 79-65 win. One of the more exciting developments in a series of easy NKU wins was a skirmish between the teams that resulted in technical fouls for Te’Jon Lucas and Paul Djoko as well as ejections for C.J. Wilbourn and Courtney Brown Jr.
Adrian Nelson averaged 13.5 points and 11.5 rebounds over the weekend, but that was hardly the most impressive part of his two performances. Nelson shot over 92 percent from the field. Not effective field goal percentage, he didn’t take any 3-pointers. He made 12 of the 13 shots he took from inside the arc for the weekend.
Josh Thomas came off the bench for a pair of great performances for Milwaukee over the weekend. Thomas averaged 16 points while shooting 78.9 percent from the field. It’s unquestionably been a frustrating season for Thomas, who has seen his numbers drop almost across the board despite playing roughly the same minutes. It’ll be interesting to see if a move to the bench allows him to improve his productivity à la Josh Jefferson at Green Bay.
Detroit Mercy vs. Purdue Fort Wayne
Detroit Mercy had one of the easier weekends of anyone in the league while playing against a Purdue Fort Wayne team that still can’t break out of its late-season slide. On Friday, UDM went into the half up 6 and never let the Mastodons pull closer than two possessions in an 82-72 win. Saturday, the halftime lead was the same but the game was even easier. With over six minutes to play, the Titans led 81-47 and even the fact that Detroit Mercy scored two more points the rest of the game couldn’t stop them from an easy 83-56 win.
If the league gives Horizon League Player of the Week to anyone but Loudon Love, it’ll probably be Antoine Davis who walks away with another weekly award. Davis averaged 28 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of 64.7. Another insane shooting weekend carried the Titans to the easy 2-0 weekend and left Davis in a position to finish with the best shooting percentages during Horizon League play that we’ve seen from him in his three seasons.
While go-to-guy Jarred Godfrey had another rough weekend shooting the ball, Jalon Pipkins was once again a solid all-around performer for the Mastodons. Pipkins averaged 14.5 points and 4.5 rebounds with an effective field goal percentage of 64.3. Pipkins has scored 10 or more points efficiently in six of the team’s last seven games.
Green Bay vs. IUPUI
The lone split series of the weekend featured a pair of games that played out drastically differently. On Friday, IUPUI and Green Bay played a back-and-forth contest that wasn’t decided until the Jaguars forced multiple empty possessions in the last three minutes of an 80-71 win. The Phoenix weren’t going to let that happen on Saturday, exploding out of the gate and easily controlling the first half 41-18. IUPUI had a similar run late, but the lead was far too much to overcome and Green Bay won 79-71.
Emmanuel Ansong had the best weekend of his career since transferring up from Wheeling University, averaging 16.5 points and 8 rebounds per game for the Phoenix. The 6-foot-4 sophomore forward has been a very welcome addition to a Green Bay roster where only three guards had any NCAA playing experience heading into the season.
Marcus Burk averaged 22 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists per game for the Jaguars in the split. The 6-foot-3 scoring guard looks like he’s once again headed to an All-League season by putting up hugely impressive stats for a struggling IUPUI team. Helping his case this season, the Jaguars have already played Cleveland State and Wright State and aren’t currently in last place using traditional standings.
Youngstown State vs. Robert Morris
Arguably the most compelling series of the weekend featured two of the teams who entered closest to the bottom of the standings. Youngstown State outlasted Robert Morris in a pair of games that went to overtime. On Friday, the Penguins erased a 5-point halftime deficit to take a seven-point lead with 12:43 to play, but the Colonials battled back, with the final touch being a Jon Williams buzzer beater just moments after he appeared to be fouled in the act of shooting the game-tying shot. A Michale Akuchie 3-pointer that put YSU up 77-74 with 1:54 to play in overtime followed by a scoreless minute for both sides forced RMU to try to extend the game, but YSU prevailed 84-78. On Saturday, YSU held a multiple possession lead with less than a minute to play before allowing a pair of RMU buckets to force the extra period. A nearly two minute scoreless streak sunk the Colonials and Youngstown State prevailed 70-66.
Darius Quisenberry returned to action for the first time in over a month, and put forward his first two 20-point performances against Division I competition. While Quisenberry finished the weekend with an effective field goal percentage of just 39.4, the fact that he was able to take the leading role in his return bodes well for YSU down the stretch.
Robert Morris star A.J. Bramah also returned to action, though after just a one-week absence. Bramah returned to the form we’ve seen from him all season, averaging 18.5 points and 13.5 rebounds per game for the Colonials. Bramah remained incredibly effective despite struggling with foul trouble in both games. He committed four fouls on Friday and fouled out on Saturday.