Norse fall late in road OT thriller, 88-85

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Photo courtesy of Northern Kentucky Athletics

Vikings capitalize on rebounding advantage, turnovers

This time, second half heroics were not enough to carry the day for the black and gold. 

Sunday night on the road, the Northern Kentucky University men’s basketball team dragged host Cleveland State into Overtime after another strong second half effort, only to come up short when it mattered most.  The 88-85 loss drops the Norse back to .500 on the season at 8-8 overall and 3-2 in Horizon League play. 

The Sunday thriller at Cleveland State followed a very familiar pattern, a near facsimile of NKU’s rousing late game, three-point victory over Youngstown State Thursday night…but with the opposite result.  Just like Thursday night against the Penguins, the Norse tipped off against the Vikings and proceeded to struggle to find and take good shots, netting just 24 points before retiring to the locker room at halftime.

Thankfully for the Norse the gritty first half defensive battle went both ways, causing the home team to also struggle mightily from the field.  In almost unheard-of fashion, the Norse were only able to manage taking 20 shots the entire first half, hitting on just 7 of those for a 35% field goal percentage. 

While this statistic would normally yield a crippling result, it was nearly nullified by a suffocating Norse hybrid-zone defense that prohibited the Vikings from springing loose for quality shots, hitting on just 31.4% (11-of-35) of their attempts. Despite a six-minute scoring drought by the Norse spanning 11:59 to 5:57 – finally broken by a pair of swished free throws courtesy of senior guard Marques Warrick – the Vikings carried a modest six-point lead (30-24) into the start of the second half. 

And at risk of sounding like a broken record, in exact fashion as seen Thursday night against YSU, the Norse and their opponents emerged from their locker rooms ready for the second frame with renewed energy and aggression. 

Norse sophomore post Keeyan Itejere scored the first four points of the half with a short contested jumper in the paint and then a thunderous dunk to quickly close the Viking lead to two, 30-28.  The Vikings responded with a burst of their own, rattling off eight straight points while keeping the Norse off the board to stretch the early lead to ten (38-28).    

The teams battled back and forth, the Norse looking to narrow the deficit while the Vikings held their lead and kept the margin to 3-4 possession game.  The hosts led by as many as 11 at the 14:11 mark, but at 10:16 the Norse began to heat up and put pressure on the Vikings defense. 

Senior wing Trey Robinson hit a jumper in the paint to drag the lead down to 5, freshman guard Randy Pettus II sank a deep three-pointer from the wing, graduate guard Michael Bradley dropped a floater in and then two possessions later connected on a deep ball to trim the Viking advantage to a one possession game (54-52) with 7:40 to go. 

Coming out of the under-8:00 media timeout, Itejere hit a jumper in the paint to knot the score up at 55 with 6:39 to go.  On the Vikings next possession down the court, Norse sophomore forward LJ Wells swiped a steal clean from senior forward Tristan Eraruna, and zipped the ball to Warrick who pulled up on the fastbreak and popped a three-pointer to give the Norse its first lead of the game, 58-55, with 6:13 to go. 

Did the crowd go wild as the Norse took the lead?  No. No, they did not go wild.  This was a home game for the Vikings, who have not lost at home since January 5th…of last season.  But, CSU head coach Daniyal Robinson did take a timeout to slow the proverbial bleeding and refocus his squad.

Coming out of the timeout, Robinson’s squad snared the lead back (59-58) at 5:17 on the strength of two free throws by senior guard Drew Lowder.  By the 2:12 mark, that lead stretched back out to 5 after a steal and fast break dunk by senior wing Tae Williams to give the Vikings a 68-63 advantage.

Once the game clock ticked under 01:00, the sticky Norse defense forced the Vikings into disjointed possessions and went on to score 7 of the game’s last 11 points, culminating in a game-tying, step-back three at the buzzer by Warrick to square the score back up at 74.

Despite the Warrick-Doing-Warrick-Things heroics to send the game to OT, the Norse were never able to seize the lead during the extra frame.  With 00:13 left in overtime and down 86-83, the Norse stormed across half court unimpeded.  Warrick quickly found an open spot behind the arc and swished a nearly uncontested three-pointer, but Norse head coach Darrin Horn called a timeout right as Warrick squared up his potentially game-tying shot, so the game-tying shot was disallowed by officials.

There was some light at the end of the tunnel when Warrick was fouled and methodically hit his two free throws with 00:06 left in OT, narrowing the Vikings lead to 86-85.  The Norse were left with no other options but to foul, but junior forward Jayson Woodrich hit two free throws to push the score out to 88-85. 

Almost poetically, Warrick had one last chance to tie the game up with a long trey, but this time his shot fell off the mark and the Vikings were able to remain undefeated at home for at least another day.  Warrick led all scorers with 30 points, followed by fellow potential Horizon League Player of the Year Eraruna with 24. 

Noteworthy Numbers Behind the Numbers:

Marques Warrick:  30 points – 2 boards – 4 assists – 13/13 from FT

  • Averaging 19.7 points per game – 2nd in Horizon League
  • Shooting 86% from charity stripe – 2nd in Horizon League

Keeyan Itejere:  14 points – 8 boards – 3 steals – 2 blocks

  • Played 38 minutes, most this season

Michael Bradley:  15 points – 2 boards – 4 assists – 6/8 from field (75%)

  • Played 42 minutes, most this season
  • 15 points, highest scoring output this season

Trey Robinson:  11 points – 9 boards – 2 assists – 2 steals

Jeramiah Israel:  5 points – got the start gain, played 12 minutes

LJ Wells:  7 points – 9 boards – 1 steal – 34 minutes, most this season

Randy Pettus II:  3 points – 2 boards – Frosh continues to see consistent minutes

Cade Meyer:  1 board – 2 turnovers – 4 minutes

  • Elephant In the Room Moment:  Went from starter and star player at Division I Green Bay to single-digit minutes playing time.  Norse need the big man, big time.  But what does he need to be doing differently?    

Cesar Tchilombo:  1 board – 3 minutes – big man getting on the court every game now after redshirt season

Rebounds: 

  • NKU 37, CSU 47  (-10)

Turnovers: 

  • NKU 16, CSU 11  (+5)

Shots Taken:

  • NKU 58, CSU 74  (-16)

Points In Paint:

  • NKU 28, CSU 38  (-10)

Second Chance Points:

  • NKU 11, CSU 21  (-10)

Fast Break Points:

  • NKU 13, CSU 20  (-7)

Bench Points:

  • NKU 10, CSU 20  (-10)

Too Close To Call:

  • NKU and CSU had nearly identical numbers in fouls (NKU 23, CSU 22), free throw percentage (76% NKU, 74% CSU) and 3-point shooting (8-of-22 NKU, 7-of-23 CSU)

Time to Turn It Around:

  • Norse have lost 3 of their last 4 games
  • Two of those were lost by 3 points each – unfortunately, they were conference games

The Norse have a very quick turnaround time, as they travel to Oakland University to play the Grizzlies on Wednesday, January 10 at 7:00pm EST.  Head coach Greg Kampe’s squad is 9-8 overall and 4-2 in HL play this season, are winners of three straight and have some nice nonconference wins over Loyola Marymount and Xavier (OH.).  The Norse are 2-7 on the road this season, but will look to turn that around against the Grizzlies.  The game can be seen on ESPN+ or heard on ESPN1530 AM.

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