Norse win on the road, take down intrastate rival EKU, 85-75

Photo courtesy of Northern Kentucky Athletics

NKU winners in 4 of last 6 versus the Colonels

The NKU men’s basketball team travelled to Richmond, KY Sunday for an afternoon matinee match-up against in-state rival Eastern Kentucky University.  In the five-game history of this heated rivalry dating back to 2017, the home team has always come away with the win. 

That was not the case on Sunday, as the Norse invaded Baptist Health Arena and laid waste to the Colonels, 85-75, in front of 3,046 fans.

For the Norse coaching staff, EKU posed unique challenges from both scouting and game-planning perspectives.  Head coach Darrin Horn and his staff had to essentially prepare for two opponents:  the Colonels squad from 2022-23 that finished 23-14 and played deep into the post-season in their College Basketball Invitational (CBI) run to the Championship game…as well as this year’s version that came into the interstate rivalry game 4-5 on the season, with just one of those wins over a Division I opponent.  What the Norse lined up against Sunday seemed to be a combination of the two.

Eastern came into the clash averaging nearly 87 points per game while also holding a stout +7.1 rebounding margin against its opponents.  But, through the first third of their schedule they had yet to face off against an opponent with the depth and talent of NKU.

The game kicked off and rapidly tilted in favor of the home team, with the Colonels rushing out to an 11-6 advantage leading up to the first media timeout at 15:34.  The Norse came out of the timeout with renewed resolve, first cutting the lead to two (11-9) off of a deep three-pointer by freshman guard Jeramiah Israel, then less than a minute later knotting the game up at 11 via a layup from senior wing Trey Robinson.

Over the course of the following 10 minutes of action, the Norse snared the lead and stretched it to 12 (35-23) at the 4:20 mark off a deep shot buried by Israel from behind the arc.  Less than 20 seconds later, Israel took the ball the distance for a high-flying dunk that roused the Norse bench and visiting fans. 

The Norse lead extended to 14 at 37-23, and EKU head coach A.W. Hamilton immediately called a timeout to stop the proverbial bleeding.  The visitors ultimately took a 39-27 lead into the locker room at halftime after shooting 49% from the field and 50% from behind the arc in the first stanza.

The second half saw a reversal of fortune early on for the Norse, as the Colonels came out hot, cutting the Norse lead to 54-53 at the 10:29 mark off a layup by senior forward John Ukomadu.  Despite the Colonels’ best efforts, they were never able to retake the lead and saw the Norse advantage slowly build over the remaining 10 minutes. 

By the 4:07 mark, sophomore forward LJ Wells retook the double-digit lead (75-65) for the Norse on a quick layup.  From then on out down the stretch, the Norse maintained a lead on the strength of late free throws by junior guard Sam Vinson and graduate guard Michael Bradley to give the Norse the final 85-75 result.

The Norse were led in scoring by Vinson with 17 points, followed by Robinson (14), senior guard Marques Warrick (12), sophomore post Keeyan Itejere (12) and Israel (15).  As a team, the Norse shot 51.7% from the field, 50% from behind the arc and 77.3% from the charity stripe. 

The home Colonels were led by senior post Isaiah Cozart, who terrorized the Norse for 24 points, 13 rebounds and 5 blocked shots.  The former Mr. Kentucky Basketball Finalist and transfer from Western Kentucky University shot 11-of-14 (79%) from the field on the night.   

The Stories Behind the Story:

  • Sam Vinson:  17 points – 7 boards – 4 assists – 2 steals – 6/10 from the floor
  • Trey Robinson:  14 points – 8 boards – 3 steals – 6/14 from the floor 
    • Averaging 16.3 points per game over the past 3 games
    • Leads team in rebounding at 5.7 boards per game
  • Jeramiah Israel:  15 points – 5 rebounds – 1 assist – 5/6 from the floor, 3/3 from behind the arc, 2/2 from the charity stripe
    • Only missed one shot on the night
    • Did all of his damage in just 15 minutes of play
    • Won Horizon League’s “Freshman of the Week” award for his recent production
  • Marques Warrick:  12 points – 1 board – 3 assists – 4/9 from the floor
    • Leads team in scoring at 18.8 points per game 
    • Remains on pace to break NKU all-time scoring record
  • Keeyan Itejere:  12 points – 2 boards – 3 assists – 5/6 from the floor
    • Shooting 71.4% from the floor this season, good for 2nd in the nation if he had enough shots to qualify for the category
    • Rejected!  Marquette transfer post ranks 15th in the NCAA with 25 blocks
  • LJ Wells:  2 points – 1/5 from the floor
  • Michael Bradley:  9 points – 3 boards – 7 assists to 0 turnovers – 6/6 from the FT line
    • On the season – 59 assists, 22 turnovers
    • Leads Horizon League with 4.9 assists per game and second in Turnover Ratio of 2.7:1
  • Cade Meyer:  4 points – 3 boards – 2/4 from the floor
  • Cesar Tchilombo:  No stats – 2 minutes of play
  • “Poster Boiz” – Itejere + Meyer + Tchilombo
    • Post position accounted for:  16 points – 5 boards – 3 assists
  • Despite winning the game and seemingly being in control a vast majority of the contest, the Colonels managed to top the Norse on: points off turnovers (19 to 13), second-chance points (12 to 9), fast-break points (14 to 12) and bench points (33 to 28)
    • None of that was enough to nullify the Norse’s eye-popping advantages in overall field goal shooting (51.7% to EKU’s 38.9%) and shooting from behind the arc (50% to 25%)
  • Stop, Thief!  The Norse rank 21st in the nation in thefts, averaging 9.6 steals per game
  • As An Aside:  The Norse have rocketed up the NET Rating ranks at a greater margin than all but three other teams in the country (Montana, Oklahoma State and Nebraska).  NKU recently jumped 20 spots from 202 to 182

Next up for the Norse, they will be travelling across the map to California to play West Coast Conference (WCC) foe St. Mary’s on Thursday, December 21 for a 10:00pm non-conference matchup.  The WCC powerhouse finished 27-8 and 16-2 on their home court last season and advanced to the 2nd Round of last year’s NCAA Tournament before bowing out to eventual National Champion UConn, 70-55.  After a rocky start to the season, the 6-5 Gaels are on a three-game winning streak after wins over Cleveland State, Colorado State and UNLV. 

Fans can watch the 10pm game on ESPN+ or listen on ESPN1530 radio.


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