Norse crush NAIA power Cumberlands, 94-59

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Photo courtesy of Northern Kentucky Athletics

Fend off No. 12-ranked Patriots, improve to 6-5

When the NKU men’s basketball home schedule for the 2023-24 season was originally released, it would have been reasonable for its season ticket holders to harbor at least a modicum of discontent at the sight of an NAIA opponent absorbing one of the valuable home game slots. 

What nobody could have predicted, was that the lower division University of the Cumberlands (Ky.) would roll into Truist Arena Thursday night undefeated at 12-0 and ranked No. 12 in the (NAIA) country.

The 2,475 fans in attendance were fully expecting thorough domination of the visiting Patriots squad who just made the three-hour bus trip from rural Williamsburg, KY.  What they were treated to – at least early on – was what looked like an upset in the making at the hands of the fastest rising men’s hoops program in NAIA Division I.  Exactly halfway through the first half, the Norse were trailing its visitors, 20-17, as they struggled mightily to find the bottom of the basket one possession after another.

Thankfully for the Norse (6-5. 2-0 HL), once their shooters heated up, the remainder of the first half quelled any prospect that the home team would be upset on its own court.  The Norse rode a late 29-12 run into the locker room at halftime, leading 48-26 on the strength of 51.6% shooting from the floor and a 22-15 (+7) rebounding margin.

“I thought we got off to a little bit of a slow start tonight,” Coach Horn said post-game.  “Give Cumberlands credit, they had us spread out and we did not do a good job of handling it, but I thought once we settled in our guys did a really good job of being aggressive and guarding the ball, being really aggressive with our hands and flying around and doing a good job of getting our hands on basketballs.”

The Norse came out of the locker room swinging in the second half, drawing out the lead to 55-37 at 17:30, capped off by a nifty assist from sophomore center Keeyan Itejere to junior guard Sam Vinson for a thunderous dunk that brought the home crowd to their feet. 

They continued to play tight defense, keeping the ball in front of them and locking up shooters, allowing them to go on another strong 21-12 run – highlighted by a combined 15 points (5 each) from senior guard Marques Warrick, sophomore wing LJ Wells, and freshman guard Jeramiah Israel – that drained 10:26 off the clock and extended the Norse lead to 74-48 with 7:29 left in the game.

Padding the lead over multiple runs allowed Head Coach Darrin Horn the opportunity to dig deeper into his bench, which in turn not only gave his younger players valuable playing time but also afforded his starters much-needed rest. 

A 16-6 Norse run over the remaining 5:17 of the game – highlighted by 5-of-8 shooting, 5/5 from the charity stripe and 4 forced steals – gave NKU their biggest and final lead (35 points) of the game.

Horn on what he got out of tonight’s game:  “Probably the most pleasing thing for me in a game like this is to see the development of our bench and our depth.  Guys continuing to come in (off the bench) and do good things.”

Cumberlands was paced by junior forward Robertas Jonaitas’ 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field.  The 6-5 transfer from Division II Gannon University came into the game averaging 7.9 points per game. 

The Norse were led in scoring by Warrick with 22 points on 7-of-13 from the field.  Vinson had a complete “jack-of-all-trades” performance on the night with 12 points, 7 assists, 6 swiped steals and 6 rebounds.  For a second straight night, senior wing Trey Robinson had another impressive performance with 15 points and 9 rebounds in his 24 minutes on the court.   

As a team, NKU shot 55% from the floor, 32% from behind the arc and 73% from the charity stripe while outrebounding their opponents 45-27, leading to a wide (48-26 points) scoring margin over the Patriots in the paint.  The Norse also held their foe to 35.6% shooting from the field and 27% from behind the arc.  

Norse Numbers & Notes:

  • Marques Warrick:  22 points – 4 boards – 7/13 from the floor
  • Sam Vinson:  12 points – 6 boards – 7 assists – 6 steals – 5/9 from the floor
  • Trey Robinson:  15 points – 9 boards – 2 assists – 5/11 from the floor
  • Keeyan Itejere:  7 points – 5 boards – 2 assists – 3 steals – 5 blocks
  • Michael Bradley:  9 points – 5 boards – 4 assists – 2 steals
  • LJ Wells:  9 points – 3 boards – 1 assist – 3/5 shooting from the floor
  • Jeramiah Israel:  10 points – 3 boards – 1 assist – 4/6 from floor, 2/4 behind the arc – continues to produce when called upon, growing as a scoring threat
  • Cade Meyer:  6 points – 4 boards – 2 assists – 3 fouls in 10 minutes of play
  • Bench Points:  NKU 29, Cumberlands…2 
  • Norse were 22-of-30 (73.3%) from the free throw line, showing improvement over their recent 14-of-24 (58%) effort versus Akron
  • “Shhhh, sleeeep…” – The players who needed rest the most, got the rest they deserved.  Warrick 29 minutes, Vinson 29 minutes, Robinson 24 minutes.
  • Cumberlands roster:  Primarily Division I transfers and highly-rated junior college (JUCO) players

The Norse get just a couple days of rest before making the trip to Richmond, Ky. to take on Eastern Kentucky University (4-5, 4-2 Home) at Baptist Health Arena on Sunday, December 17.  The Colonels have struggled so far this season, with three of their four wins coming at the expense of sub-Division I programs – they also lost both games they hosted in the EKU Classic, to Prairie View A&M and Tennessee-Martin.  Fans can catch the Dec. 17 / 4:00PM tipoff on ESPN+ and ESPN 1530AM radio.

Want to read more?  https://horizoneroundtable.com/author/larrywical/

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Freelance Writer and Staff Writer for the HoriZone Roundtable, covering college basketball, the Horizon League and Northern Kentucky University athletics.

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