Norse overpower Robert Morris in HL opener, 77-59

Photo by Brendan Connelly

Warrick, Vinson combine for 40 points versus Colonials

The Northern Kentucky University men’s basketball team cracked the seal of Horizon League play in resounding fashion Wednesday night, rallying in the second half to route visiting Robert Morris, 77-59.

The Colonials offered the Norse (4-3, 1-0 HL) a more intriguing matchup than usual, as their squad became markedly better over the offseason via the transfer portal.  Through the transfer portal, RMU picked up impact players from LSU, Western Michigan, Davidson, Winthrop and Iona, giving their roster far more length, quality and experience than years past. 

RMU head coach Andrew Toole’s team rolled into Highland Heights with confidence, fresh off of his squad pasting 97 points on Farleigh Dickinson University three days earlier in an 11-point win.  FDU, as a 16 seed in the 2022-23 NCAA Tournament, knocked off No. 1 seed Purdue in the First Round of last season’s tournament earning them the titles of “tournament darlings” and “giant killers.”  In the Second Round, the Knights narrowly lost to eventual Final Four participant Florida Atlantic, 78-70.       

The Norse – who walked out to a Truist Arena crowd of 2,770 fans sporting their new cream-colored uniforms – led by as much as 12 at the 8:47 mark in the first half after a jumper in the paint by sophomore forward LJ Wells. 

The lead shrunk to six points after an 8-point first half effort by Western Michigan transfer Markeese Hastings and a deep three-pointer by Winthrop transfer guard Josh Corbin with 15 seconds left in the first stanza, sending the Norse to the locker room with a 29-23 advantage. 

Head coach Darrin Horn’s squad came out in the second half and were unable to quickly string enough quality possessions together to build a comfortable lead, with their lead sagging to two at the 17:33 mark.  The Norse lead soon after disappeared and devolved into a tie game at 33 after a layup in the paint by Davidson transfer guard Chris Ford at the 16:55 mark.  After Horn called a timeout at 15:28 in the half to make a substitute and give his squad a chance to refocus, the Norse responded with renewed vigor.

At the 13:55 mark a Hastings jumper near the baseline fell for two, drawing the Colonials closer to an upset bid.  It was then that the Norse surge began.  Senior guard Marques Warrick answered right back at 14:36, taking the ball and torpedoing his way into the paint for a two-point runner, sparking a 12-0 Norse run that lasted nearly four minutes, drawing the score out to 57-37. 

Photo by Brendan Connelly

Junior guard Sam Vinson closed out the scoring spree at the 9:55 mark with a jumper in the paint plus a made free throw after getting hacked on the play, giving the Norse plenty of breathing room.

At the 5:33 mark, Vinson put the Norse up, 63-46, on an alley-oop slam from an assist launched by Warrick from the edge of the Norse logo near mid-court.  From most angles, both live and on replay, the rocket pass looked like it may sail too high out of the 6-5 guard’s reach, but Vinson snared the ball at its highest point and slammed it home for a pair, on his way to 15 points on the night. 

“Great pass (from Ques),” Horn said of the alley-oop play.  “I’ve seen Sam do that before and I think he is definitely capable of it.  It was a great play… and I think the most important thing is Ques had the confidence to throw it, and Sam had the confidence that Ques was going to throw it and make it good and then he went up and got it…you need those guys to have that kind of synergy between them because that feeds to the other guys.”

The crowd erupted emphatically and the Norse were able to hold a substantial lead the rest of the way out, eventually extending the lead to the game’s largest at 23 on a fast break layup by senior wing Trey Robinson in the last minute of the game.

Horn was pleased with the result, and elaborated as such in his post-game press conference. 

“I feel like this was the most complete game we’ve played, on both ends, from start to finish…and in terms of the number of guys that contributed and played in a way and at a level that we believe they are capable of playing, so that was really good to see,” Horn said after the game. 

“We feel like for us to be our best we’re going to have to be really aggressive attacking the paint and the rim and using our interior guys , there’s some easy baskets coming from our ‘bigs.’  And I thought Marques Warrick was terrific tonight playing really physical as well…we were able to get to the foul line 19 times, and those are some things that the interior play – and physical play of our guards on offense and ability to get to the foul line – are really helping us to be able to, when you only have 29 (points) at the half, are still able to get to 77 (points).”       

Warrick paced the Norse in scoring, setting a new game high on the season with 25 points on 69% shooting from the field.  As a team, the Norse blistered the nets in the second half, shooting 72% from the field on 18-of-25 shooting…they went on to shoot 60% from the field for the game.  Graduate point guard Michael Bradley came off the bench for the Norse for the third straight game, and in 32 minutes led the team with 9 steals, a season high for him. 

Nuts N(orse) Bolts:

  • Marques Warrick:  25 points (season high) – 4 rebounds – 3 assists – 3 steals – 9/13 from the field (69%)
  • Sam Vinson:  15 points – 5 rebounds – 2 steals – 1 highlight reel-worthy alley-oop slam (Warrick – assist)
  • Keeyan Itejere:  4 points – 4 rebounds – 1 block – fouled out in 14 minutes of play
  • Cade Meyer:  10 points – 2 rebounds – 1 assist – 2 blocks – 21 minutes off the bench, filled in for Itejere
  • Michael Bradley:  7 points – 2 rebounds – 9 assists / 1 turnover – 2 steals – Leads Horizon League in assists with 38, good for 5.4 apg
  • LJ Wells:  6 points – 8 rebounds – Started third straight game, 23 minutes on the court
  • Trey Robinson:  8 points – 4 rebounds – 2 steals – Shot 67% from field (4/6)
  • Points in Paint:  NKU 42, RMU 34 (55% of Norse points were scored in the paint)
  • “UnNorsemanlike” Conduct:  The Norse shot only 11 three-pointers on the night, a stark departure from their propensity to test teams from the perimeter – they hit 5-of-11 for 46% from behind the arc
  • The Colonials came into the game averaging 70.2 points per game – the Norse held them to -11 their season average    

Next up for the Norse:  A Saturday, December 2nd matinee matchup at IUPUI in Indianapolis at Indiana Farmers Coliseum, 12 Noon EST tipoff.

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