Look to rebound Thursday at Washington
Darrin Horn and his Norse squad entered the 2023-24 season with a new roster, a fresh stable of weapons and rejuvenated hope of taking the next proverbial step forward as a program. The 17-point drubbing the Norse took at the hands of the home Blue Raiders in Murfreesboro, TN Monday night served them with the message that they are not the only mid-major program looking to make a big splash this season.
The Norse dropped the road contest, 74-57, to one of Conference USA’s steadiest teams the past few years, a team that defends its home court with a level of ferocity that can only be evidenced by their 27-2 home record the past two seasons. Last season, MTSU finished 19-14 (12-2 home) and grounded NCAA Tourney darling Florida Atlantic at home during the regular season, 74-70, before dropping a heart-breaking three point loss to FAU in the C-USA Tournament semifinals. The Owls went on to win the C-USA bid and ultimately miss a trip to the National Championship game by one basket to eventual finalist San Diego State.
The Blue Raiders won the opening tip, and from then on never fully relinquished momentum of the game. Early on, the two teams traded missed shots and turnovers. Junior guard Marques Warrick got the scoring started for the Norse at the 18:42 mark with a step-back jumper, but MTSU responded quickly at 18:18 with a deep three.
The home team began pressuring the ball early on the first half, causing the Norse fits with the ball while forcing the visitors into one costly foul and turnover after another. A 9-0 run by the Blue Raiders after Norse junior post Cade Meyer was subbed in at the 16:42 mark looked to take wind out of the Norse sails. The Norse committed seven team fouls by the 11:36 mark and 11 fouls by 6:02, and by then two of its starters – graduate transfer point guard Michael Bradley and sophomore transfer post Keeyan Itejere – already had three fouls apiece, forcing Horn to go deeper into his bench early in the game.
By halftime, the Norse were already down by 24 points (45-21) to their slightly favored hosts. Five Norse players had three fouls or more, causing Horn to spread minutes out to 11 different players, with eight players recording at least 11 minutes of playing time. Twelve Norse turnovers in the first half alone lead to both lost possessions and free MTSU opportunities, sending the visitors to the locker room at the half with many adjustments to review.
While the Norse outscored the Blue Raiders 36-29 in the second half, the damage had already been done, sending the Norse home with a loss to start the season and potentially more questions than answers.
By The Numbers:
- Warrick led the Norse in scoring with 18 points on 7/15 shooting from the field and turned the ball over four times.
- Junior guard Sam Vinson netted 13 points on the night in addition to six rebounds and two assists.
- Three Norse players scored six points each (Itejere, Meyer and sophomore wing LJ Wells)
- Freshman guard Fiston Ipassou (Adelaide, Australia) scored four points and snagged five rebounds in his 11-minute debut.
- Itejere (16 minutes) and Meyer (23 minutes) seemingly split the post minutes in similar fashion to how AD Nelson and Chris Brandon split time during the 2021-22 season. They were never on the court at the same time Monday night. Meyer started all 31 games and was the leading scorer at UW-Green Bay last season, averaging 10.5 points and 5 rebounds per game on nearly 28 minutes per game.
- Senior guard Trey Robinson started the game, but missed all of his shots on the night outside of going 2-4 from the free throw line. He did haul down nine rebounds and snagged two steals in his 26 minutes of game action.
- Bradley started and played 24 minutes in his NKU debut, but four early fouls kept him on the bench for long stretches, causing Horn to turn to freshman guard Randy Pettus II to run the offense at times.
- After years of building a reputation as a three-point-shooting heavy team, the Norse went 3/14 from behind the arc for a 21.4% clip.
The Norse will look to rebound quickly as they travel to Seattle on Thursday, Nov. 9 to take on the PAC-12’s Washington Huskies. The Huskies are reportedly a much-improved team and will give the Norse yet another stiff challenge on the road as they prepare themselves to defend their Horizon League Championship. Tipoff Thursday night is 11:00pm EST and the game can be caught on the PAC-12 Network.