Milwaukee crashes NKU Homecoming party

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Panthers claw back from 22 in key HL win

A night that was supposed to be wrapped in fun and festive revelry for the 4,466 fans that filed into Truist Arena for the Norse’s winter Homecoming game on January 28th, suddenly turned bleak as the visiting Panthers came back from 22 points down in the second half to edge out the Norse, 75-74.

Coming into the much-anticipated tilt, both teams were sitting near the top of the Horizon League standings with a chance to claim first place on the line.  With the loss, the Norse (14-9) – now 9-3 in Horizon League play – find themselves entrenched in a four-way tie for the top spot with Milwaukee, Cleveland State and Youngstown State.  A Norse victory would have left them flying solo at the top of the conference standings with a 10-2 conference record.

In the first half, the Norse surged out to a 47-27 halftime lead on the strength of 51.5% (17/33) shooting overall from the field and 40% (6/15) from behind the arc.  Statistically this was one of NKU’s most complete single-half performances of the season, not counting games against sub-Division I opponents. 

As sensational as the Norse were in the first half, they were equally as dismal the second half.  What the home crowd witnessed was truly a “Tale of Two Cities” for the ages, as they saw the Norse go from performing their best of the season to the worst of the season in melancholic fashion. 

The second half began with the Panthers clearly hungry to regain form, aggressively applying steady pressure on the inbounds passes.  The more the Norse turned the ball over, threw passes away or failed to crash the paint for their own offensive rebounds, the more the Panthers built confidence and gained ground.  Milwaukee’s focus in the second half was clearly a result of some substantial adjustments made by first-year coach Bart Lundy at halftime, focusing more on forcing turnovers and driving the paint for higher percentage shots. This change in focus proved fruitful for his squad. 

When the shots in and around the basket weren’t falling for Milwaukee, they were still drawing fouls and converting from the free throw line.  In the second half alone, the Panthers made 84.1% (16/19) of their free throws.

“Bottom line is give Milwaukee credit, they really came back and battled the second half,” Coach Darrin Horn said in the post-game press conference.  “They didn’t do anything special, they were just ultra-aggressive, especially driving the basketball…the difference in the game ultimately was the free throw line, they got to the free throw line so much because we stopped guarding the ball.”       

The Norse came out of the locker room the second half with a sizeable lead and the confidence to match.  Shooting from deep in the first half allowed the Norse to establish the perimeter and stretch the Milwaukee defense a bit.  Nearly 40% of NKU’s first half points came from behind the arc, and they came out in the second half with the same plan…continue raining three-pointers and building their lead.  Only this time, the Panther defenders were ready to suffocate the Norse and force them into more challenged shots.

In the second half, despite going cold from deep, Horn’s squad continued the air raid offense as the lead continued to shrink.  Halfway through the second half, the Norse lead was trimmed to 10.  Coming out of a timeout, the Norse continued to let the three-pointers fly, and the shots continued to clang off the rim and into Panther hands.  The Norse went scoreless from 10:54 to 6:40, a four-plus minute period that saw the Norse go from leading by 13 to trailing by four.  During that scoreless stretch, the Norse possessions looked like this:

  • Turnover
  • Missed 3-pointer
  • Missed jumper
  • Missed 3-pointer
  • NKU Timeout (Up by 6)
  • Missed layup
  • Missed 3-pointer
  • Missed jumper
  • Turnover
  • Missed 3-pointer
  • Missed 3-pointer
  • 6:40 – Trevon Faulkner scores layup in the paint

In the second half, despite the lead withering away and Milwaukee surging, the Norse chose to forego visible adjustments and instead opted to continue shooting long-range, low-percentage shots. All told, the Norse slung up 18 three-pointers in the second half alone, draining only two at an 11% clip.  Meanwhile, the Panthers played up their adjustments by applying intense second half pressure and running the court to come all the way back, just like they did against Wright State two days earlier where they outscored the Raiders 60-46 in the second half, before narrowly losing 93-86 in Dayton.          

For the Panthers, sophomore BJ Freeman scored 23 points, grabbed 9 rebounds and had 4 assists in the winning effort.  Freeman continues to burn up the nets, securing his sixth straight game of 20+ points and now averages 16.3 points per game.  The transfer from Dodge City CC has built quite the resume the past nine games and looks to be well on his way to consideration for Horizon League post-season honors.   

The game was not without some solid performances from the Norse:

Fifth-year senior Chris Brandon continues to be a walking double-double and was good for 18 points and 17 rebounds on the night.  The stout night on the glass secured his status as the Horizon League’s rebounding leader at 9.7 rebounds per game and is still among the nation’s leaders…and still slightly ahead of former Norse Adrian Nelson’s 9.2 rpg for conference foe Youngstown State.  Additionally, in the battle versus Milwaukee, Brandon notched his 911th career rebound, which includes his time at both NKU and with Detroit Mercy.

Junior Trey Robinson notched a career high 18 points on 3 of 7 from behind the arc, adding 4 rebounds and 4 steals.

Sophomore Sam Vinson netted 12 points and snagged 8 rebounds.

Junior Marques Warrick had an “off night” (for him) in the scoring column with 11 points, but contributed 5 assists and 3 rebounds to the effort.  Despite the light-bucket night, Warrick is still third in the Horizon League in scoring at 18.7 points per game.

Fifth-year senior Trevon Faulkner came off the bench to drop 10 points and haul in 4 rebounds in his 23 minutes of work.

The Norse look to recoup from this loss and take their season on the road, travelling to Moon Township, PA to take on Robert Morris on February 2nd.  The Colonials are currently 11-12 (6-6 HL), but have won three straight games and are 7-2 at home this season.

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