Norse battle with Washington in West Coast tilt

Photo courtesy of Northern Kentucky Athletics

Drop close one to Huskies, 75-67

The fans of Norse Nation have been clamoring for a more attractive nonconference schedule for some time now.  Thus far, they are finding out early in the season that they may be getting exactly that in the form of road battles against one of Conference USA’s top teams in Middle Tennessee State (a 17-point loss) and the PAC-12’s University of Washington.  The latest result of the stiffer nonconference slate, a 75-67 loss to the host Huskies.

Thursday night at Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle, the Norse battled back and forth with the Huskies, spending most of the night scrapping – through five lead changes – to keep the contest a 2-3 possession game.  While the Huskies had the bigger, faster, stronger and more experienced roster coming into the late night tilt, the visiting Norse kept the game close repeatedly finding ways to keep the home team from covering the 14.5 point pre-game spread. 

The Huskies clearly respected the reigning Horizon League champions enough to employ their starting lineup a vast majority of the game, and distributed 20 minutes or more to only six players in order to hold control of the contest down the stretch.  Graduate transfer Keion Brooks Jr., a former 5-star wing recruit and transfer from University of Kentucky, carried the Huskies en route to accounting for 43% of their offensive scoring.  The second-team All-PAC wing from Ft. Wayne, IN played 38 minutes, tallying 32 points, 10 rebounds and three steals on the night.

Both teams took turns throughout the contest wresting the lead from each other, but ultimately this game came down to hitting free throws, taking care of the ball, taking advantage of turnovers on the scoring end and limiting damage from the opposing team’s marquee player.  The Huskies managed to force 12 Norse turnovers, but seemingly capitalized on each miscue in the form of 19 points and 12 points off transition fast-breaks – far more robust numbers than NKU’s eight points off turnovers and three fast-break points. 

The Huskies did a commendable job of bracketing senior guard Marques Warrick and holding him to just six points on the night for 0-of-12 shooting from the field, while the Huskies’ leading scorer (Brooks, Jr.) popped off for 32 points on 69% shooting from the floor.    

Mid-major programs have very little to no margin of error in defeating their much bigger “Power 5” opponents, so grasping every advantage is crucial.  The Norse scored 16 of their points from the free throw line, but only hit 64% from the stripe, leaving nine points on the court in a game decided by just eight points.  The home team loaded up on free throws, sinking 22 of 27 from the stripe at an 82% clip.

Close loss aside for the Norse, they were not without encouraging signs from the contest:

  • Head coach Darrin Horn and his staff were able to see what they have with full games from newcomers graduate point guard Michael Bradley (11 points, 2 rebounds, 7 assists in 36 minutes) and sophomore post Keeyan Itejere (14 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks in 26 minutes). 

Bradley and Itejere both faced foul trouble early in NKU’s first game of the season at MTSU, so their production versus Washington surely left the coaches with more answers than questions about their ability to mesh on the court.

  • Junior guard Sam Vinson continues to show persistent improvement against sturdy competition, dating back to his gutsy performance in last season’s NCAA Round 1 game against #1-ranked Houston (15 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals) and extending that into this season against MTSU (13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists) and Thursday night at Washington (14 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists). 

If Bradley continues to stay out of foul trouble, it should free Vinson up to approach the game from more of a playmaker role.

  • In 22 minutes of play off the bench, sophomore forward LJ Wells gave the Norse valuable production on both ends of the court with his 10 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.  His four fouls may have kept him from more time on the court, but he has posted two straight promising performances to start the season.

The Norse catch a break in their schedule Tuesday, Nov. 14 at home against lower division opponent DePauw University.  The DU Tigers play in Division III’s North Coast Athletic Conference and finished 18-9 last season.  7:00pm tipoff at NKU’s Truist Arena and the game can be found on ESPN+ and FoxSports1360 AM radio.

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