Norse dismantle Mount St. Joe’s in lone exhibition

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Photo courtesy of Northern Kentucky Athletics

Ready to roll November 6th vs. MTSU

The Northern Kentucky University Norse held their first – and only – formal exhibition game Wednesday night in the cozy confines of Truist Arena in Highland Heights, mauling visiting Mount St. Joseph University (Cincinnati), 85-31. 

The Norse came out for the jump ball sporting a starting lineup featuring new post Keeyan Itejere (Marquette) along with a cast of guards highlighted by holdovers Marques Warrick, Sam Vinson, Trey Robinson and grad transfer Michael Bradley (Mercyhurst).  The visiting cross-river Division III Lions held their own early, slowing their larger and faster opponent’s  transitions down and hassling the Norse into turnovers, missed shots and untidy ball-handling miscues. 

The Lions took the lead early and it wasn’t until the 17:42 mark in the first half that the home team netted its first points of the game off of a pull-up jumper by Bradley near the charity stripe.  But once the revamped Norse brushed off the preseason rust and found its groove, the proverbial gloves came off and they showed not only what their projected starters can do, but also how deep their bench may be this season.

Junior transfer post Cade Meyer (Green Bay) subbed into the game in the first half and went on to dominate the paint early and often, pouring in 19 points on 9-of-12 from the field using a variety of low post moves near the basket.  Based on substitution patterns, Meyer shared minutes with Itejere, who finished the game with 10 points, mostly off of dynamic breakaway and put-back dunks. Former Freshman All-American Vinson added eight points, eight assists and six steals to the mix, while newcomer freshman guard Fiston Ipassou (Australia) hit 3-of-4 treys to finish the game with 11 points.

As this was the lone exhibition game – and it was not available via TV or online stream – the Norse program (understandably) chose to keep their cards close to their chest and not distribute stat sheets at halftime and post-game. Therefore, providing a more thorough statistical breakdown of the game would prove to be a challenge. However, the lack of statistical data gave those in attendance an opportunity to focus less on raw numbers and more on the minutia within the game.

Based on what the Norse showed the crowd in attendance Wednesday night, there are a few salient takeaways that could be gleaned from this game:

Transfer Portal Acquisitions: Incoming transfers Bradley, Meyer and Itejere played enough minutes to prove why Norse head coach Darrin Horn and his staff worked so hard to bring them into the fold this season. 

  • Meyer is going to be an absolute “load” of a player to handle anywhere near the paint.  The Wisconsin native can hit shots in and around the post well using both hands, which will surely pay off handsomely as it will be tough for defenders to figure out which side to push him towards when he bulls his way into scoring range.  As a willing defender, he is the kind of player that Coach Horn needs in his system down low in order to control the paint and limit passing lanes. 
  • Itejere is the athletic marvel everyone thought he would be, it will be very difficult to find opposing players in the Horizon League who will be able to match up with his athleticism.  He is already physically elite, now he just needs to continue improving the finer skills of the game to become a complete player.  Above the rim, there will not be a stack of players in the country who will be noticeably more dynamic than the transfer from Marquette.  He was heavily recruited out of high school by high-major programs across the nation for good reason.
  • It will be very interesting to see whether Coach Horn chooses to “split” minutes between Meyer and Itejere 50/50 in the same manner he did with posts Chris Brandon and Adrian Nelson two years ago, or play both big men on the court at the same time.  Obviously he could do either/or, and can flex his approach to each opponent as he has a roster talented and deep enough to do so.  But with only 40 minutes to go around, and forwards LJ Wells and Cesar Tchilombo also on the roster and ready to contribute, Horn has many different directions he can go on any given night.   
  • Bradley takes the place of outgoing point guard Xavier Rhodes, who is now playing professionally in Europe.  While Bradley does not appear to be quite as athletic or explosive as Rhodes, you can see he is still a very skilled, hard-working court general with a high basketball IQ, an advanced understanding of the game, and should prove to be a sturdy defender and reliable scoring threat.   

Freshmen For Days:  Coach Horn and his staff seem to have a very strong starting lineup no matter how they craft it, but they will also have a stable full of freshman guards to juggle.  It wasn’t long ago that Australian newcomer Ipassou was lacing up his shoes for the Adelaide 36ers of the Australian professional men’s basketball team in the National Basketball League (NBL).  This journey even took him to the States where as a teen, he had the opportunity to go shoulder to shoulder against the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder in an exhibition game. His size and skill were impossible for pro hoops scouts to ignore, but he chose to retain his amateur status as an unpaid player without an agent so that he had the option to play college ball at the highest level overseas. 

On Wednesday night, the rangy lefty put his athleticism on display and handled himself well on defense while also hitting three straight three-pointers before finally missing on one.  Assuming his understanding of Horn’s in-game principles stick early – and with junior guard Hubie Pivorius out for an undisclosed amount of time following a serious shoulder injury- playing time may not be too hard for him to come by right out of the gate.

Fellow freshmen guards Bryce Darbyshire, Jeramiah Israel and Randall Pettus II also aquitted themselves well in their minutes Wednesday night, and walk-on sophomore guards Cole Sherman and Mitchel Minor subbed into the game later on and closed the game out.  Does Horn find minutes for all of his freshman guards, or does he pull a redshirt out of his bag for one more of them?  Only time will tell as the coaching staff closely follow the young players’ development on and off the court.

Overall, the Norse looked absolutely dominant against a team they should look dominant against.  If memory serves correct, Mount St. Joseph scored 10-12 points in the second half.  There was a point early second half where one could visibly see the Norse pump up the volume on their offensive pace and defensive aggression, and once that switch was flipped, they looked determined to prove that all the work they put in over the offseason was well worth it.  They will find out for sure when they line up Monday night, November 6th for their season opener against a very strong Middle Tennessee State in Murfreesboro, TN.

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