Next up, the HL champs YSU
One must only mull casually over countless stat sheets and game recaps over the past few seasons to comfortably conclude that coach Darrin Horn’s NKU teams have a propensity to “live by the three and die by the three.” During the Norse’s quarterfinal battle against No. 5 seed Oakland (13-19, HL 11-9) at NKU’s Truist Arena Thursday night, that adage proved to be remarkably true.
As has seemingly become a rite of mid-major passage over recent years, No. 4 seed Northern Kentucky University (20-12, HL 14-6) advanced to the Horizon League semifinals by fending off the Golden Grizzlies, 81-74, in front of 2,672 fans. Like viking archers protecting its stronghold, the Norse rained down three-pointers like arrows upon its visitors, connecting on 13 of those 29 attempts for 45% accuracy in the victory.
While the home team shot the ball very well from the field overall (49% FG%), their behind-the-arc barrage accounted for 48.2% of its total offense. Pair the Norse air raid offense with the efficiency of their usual sticky, in-your-face zone defense and the end is more often than not a win, if not a close win.
To their credit, the Golden Grizzlies did mount multiple spirited efforts to spring the upset. They trailed by only three points late in the first half, but the Norse tightened up and took advantage of the last 90 seconds of the half by capitalizing on their last two possessions to draw the lead out to nine, 41-32, before the buzzer sent the two squads to the locker rooms.
With 13:56 remaining in the game, Oakland whittled the Norse lead back down to three but could never take the lead themselves, as the Norse continued to hit three-pointers and free throws down the stretch. The Norse had two starters in foul trouble late, but the talented bench pulled their weight by accounting for 18 points in the effort the keep the home team ahead for good.
Stopping All-Horizon League guard Jalen Moore always proves to be a daunting task, but the Norse were able to at least contain the Oakland star just enough to keep him from taking the game over himself – however, despite NKU’s focus on him all game, Moore still managed to account for 21 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds in the losing effort. This loss brings Moore’s collegiate career to its official close, a career that saw him score 2,842 points combined between his two years of JUCO ball at Olney Central College and his three memorable years at Oakland.
The Norse featured five double-digit scorers on the night:
- HL Sixth Man of the Year Trevon Faulkner scored 12 points as the first Norse off the bench. The fifth-year senior also grabbed 4 rebounds as he extended his career by at least one more game.
- Junior All-Horizon League guard Marques Warrick led all scorers with 22 points, to go along with his perfect night at the charity stripe (5/5) and 5/7 shooting (71.4%) from behind the arc.
- Fifth-year senior post Chris Brandon notched another double-double, netting 13 points and snagging 13 boards to extend his college career at least one more game.
- Sophomore All-Horizon League guard Sam Vinson scored 12 points on 62.5% (5/8) shooting from the floor, while also adding three assists and four rebounds on the night. The former HL Freshman of the Year also raked in three steals to lead the defense.
- Junior wing Trey Robinson grabbed five rebounds en route to recording his eighth double-digit scoring effort on the year, pouring in 11 points in his 21 minutes of game action.
- Fifth-year senior transfer Xavier Rhodes led all ball-handlers with nine assists to pace the Norse attack.
With this win, the Norse advance to the semifinals in Indianapolis on Monday night at 7:00pm EST against Horizon League regular season champion Youngstown State (24-8, HL 15-5). This matchup will feature the Norse taking on another player looking to extend his college career in former NKU forward Adrian Nelson (13.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg), who has grown tremendously as a player since joining the Penguins as a starter and full-time player via the transfer portal.
Tune into ESPNU and ESPN+ for all the HL semifinals action.