Norse crumble in OT At Oakland, 70-65

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Photo courtesy of Northern Kentucky Athletics

Late collapse leaves Norse 8-9 on season

Well, Norse men’s basketball fans… Welcome to the Horizon League: 2023-24 Edition. 

“Are you not entertained!?”

– Gen. Maximus Decimus Meridius

Fair warning sports fans, this article is going to a bit “all over the place’…to match the ebb, flow and current state of this frenetic conference.  I will eventually address the main topic at hand, Northern Kentucky University’s 70-65 overtime loss at Oakland Wednesday night.  I don’t get paid the (nothing) big bucks to simply tell you which team won and what players scored the most points for their respective teams. 

I could do that, I suppose.  But if I am anything, it is certainly not predictable, formulaic or worst of all…boring.  You want the stories behind the stories, or so I have been led to believe.  Go to ESPN for the generic box score if that’s what you’re looking for.  But I digress… 

After a couple busy offseasons of transfer portal migrations and graduations, and a half season of basketball in the book, we can confidently concur that the HL is what we thought it was.  A mid-major conference chock full of teams that may, on any given night, look like the latest and greatest conference foe to beat.

The pecking order doesn’t change drastically every week pe se, but when glancing at the scores week in and week out, nothing ever looks….settled.  Teams that struggled to beat local junior colleges and non-scholarship schools last year are actually winning games this year, against real Division I schools.

Teams that have historically made a habit of going to the post-season year in and year out, are now seen with their heads bobbing up and down in the water like buoys, trying to get to (or stay over) .500 while struggling to stay afloat. 

As you read this, last year’s last place team is leading the conference…good on you, Green Bay.  Sign Sunny to a 10-year contract today, or risk losing him like NKU lost John Brannen not that long ago. 

That’s the beauty of an ultra-competitive conference in today’s college sports climate, in many cases now the have-nots of the conference are forever nipping at the heels of the haves. 

That’s not to say Oakland is or ever was a have-not, or that Northern Kentucky University has always been a have. That’s not the intended message.  But, to see the Norse lose their second straight game Wednesday night (while dropping six of their last eight Division I contests), as they slide further down the conference standings and NET Ratings, is a heck of a way for a Norse fan to come to the realization that times truly are changing.

It seems most seasons in the past, Oakland would have come into this game with a record of 4-12 or 5-11 overall, after getting their doors blown off by high-major teams or gold-rimmed mid-majors during their traditionally brutal nonconference schedule to start the season…only to come out on the other end stronger for it…and richer, the checks from those lucrative Away games feed a lot of mouths. 

Instead, OU came in winners of four straight with a 9-8 record.  A winning record even after facing an early season non-conference slate featuring Xavier (OH.), Loyola Marymount, Drake, Ohio State, Michigan State, Dayton, Illinois, Toledo, Marshall, Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan.  Those opponents have a combined record of 108-61, good for a winning percentage of an eyelash below .640. 

Head coach Greg Kampe’s squad managed to wrangle five wins out of that nightmare of a schedule.  Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise after all, that the Grizzlies sent the Norse home packing Wednesday night with a 70-65 loss.  Let’s get into that…

The scoring started off 1:14 into the game when Norse sophomore post Keeyan Itejere pilfered the ball from Oakland junior forward Trey Townsend, and the ball made its way to graduate point guard Michael Bradley who swung the ball around to wing Trey Robinson for a three-pointer to give NKU a 3-0 lead.

The teams traded multiple missed shots and turnovers until the Grizzlies finally scratched the board at the 16:21 mark from a Townsend jumper in the paint.  Townsend was fouled by Itejere on the shot, and went on to sink the free throw to tie the game up, 3-3.     

From then on the first half was mostly unceremonious, with the two traditional foes taking turns nursing single digit leads.  When I say unceremonious, I truly mean unceremonious. 

With 0:43 left in the first half, freshman guard Jeramiah Israel gave the Norse a five point lead on a nifty jumper in the paint to account for the game’s largest first half lead.  Neither team held a lead larger than five points, and they both retired to the Oakland Athletics Center O’Rena locker rooms embroiled in a 29-24 barnburner.  

The first half was highlighted by 34.3% shooting from the field for the Norse and 21.4% from behind the arc, edging the Grizzlies in both categories (31% and 11.1%, respectively) en route to the five point advantage. 

The second half kicked off with a quick scoring burst by the Norse – led by sophomore forward LJ Wells – who hit a quick jumper to start the half, then followed that up with a three-pointer.  Next trip down the floor, Wells was fouled on a short jumper, drawing two free throws and hitting one of the two to give the Norse their largest lead (11) of the night, 35-24. 

Seven minutes later, at the 11:09 mark, the Grizzlies chipped that 11 point Norse lead down to one (41-40) after a series of fast-break dunks and three-pointers. 

At the 6:11 mark, a Townsend layup started a Grizzly run that took OU from a one point deficit (49-48) to a 57-51 lead at 2:16 with the help of some quick offense from senior guard Rocket Watts and junior guard DQ Cole. 

The Norse tied the game back up at 58-58 with just 56 seconds left on the game clock with a deep trey from Bradley, and both teams played tight enough defense the rest of the way to end regulation tied at 58.   

The five-minute overtime period for the Norse played out much like it did in their overtime loss to Cleveland State earlier in the week.  The Grizzlies raced out to a four point lead (62-58) to start the extra period, and aggressively attacked the basket the final period. 

While the Norse continued to battle back, the Grizzlies hit 5-of-5 free throws, putting the game out of reach so the visitors could never seize the lead themselves.  The overtime loss gives the Norse a two-game losing streak and pulls their road record down to 2-8 for this season.

LJ Wells had a monster game for NKU, leading his squad with 14 points, 15 rebounds and 5 steals in 39 minutes of play…all career highs.  Senior wing Trey Robinson posted another steady game in his 34 minutes, netting 12 points and hauling down 7 rebounds in addition to his 3 steals.  Senior guard Marques Warrick, the Norse’s leading scorer on the season, was handcuffed most of the night and was only able to get off 8 shots, but still contributed 10 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists to the cause.    

The Deets:

LJ Wells:  14 points – 15 boards – 1 assist – 5 steals – Best night as Norse

Trey Robinson:  12 points – 7 rebounds – 1 assist – 3 steals

Ques Warrick:  10 points – 2 boards – 2 assists – On pace to break NKU all-time scoring record

Michael Bradley:  9 points – 5 boards – 5 assists – 4 turnovers – 4/14 from field, 1/9 from behind-the-arc

Keeyan Itejere:  9 points – 5 boards – 2 blocks – 2 steals – Fouled out 2nd half

Jeramiah Israel:  4 points – 5 boards – 1 assist

Randy Pettus II:  5 points – 2 boards – 1 steal – Career high points

Cade Meyer:  2 points – 2 boards – 1 assist – 4 turnovers/4 fouls in 11 minutes

Comparatively Speaking…

  • Two Peas In a Pod:  The O’Rena rims were equally unkind to both teams Wednesday night…both NKU (36.8%) and Oakland (37.7%) both struggled shooting from the field, and especially from behind the arc (NKU 17.9% – OU 23.1%)
  • The 5-of-28 from behind the arc Wednesday night brought NKU’s three-point field goal shooting percentage down to 30.8% on the season
    • Third worst in Horizon League, behind only 0-17 Detroit Mercy (25.6%) and 5-13 IUPUI (25.6%)
  • Points in the Paint:  NKU 38, OU 30
  • Points Off Turnovers:  NKU 17, OU 17
  • Second-Chance Points:  NKU 6, OU 11  (-5)
  • Fast Break Points:  NKU 2, OU 4  (-2)
  • Bench Points:  NKU 11, OU 20
  • Rebounds:  NKU 43, OU 46  (-3)
  • Fouls:  NKU 22, OU 15
    • Free Throws Made:  NKU 10, OU 18  (-8)
  • Overtime Uh-Oh Alert:
    • NKU flung up 4 three-pointers in OT, going 0-for-4
    • Oakland attacked the rim in OT, drew fouls and hit 5-of-5 from charity stripe
    • Final margin of loss…5 points
  • Picking Pockets – Steals:  NKU 14, OU 7  (+7)

The loss drops the Norse to 8-9 overall and 3-3 in Horizon League play.  Oakland improves to 10-8 overall and 5-2 in HL play, and a tie for first with a resurgent Green Bay squad (10-8 overall).   Next up for the Norse…Saturday, January 13 at Detroit Mercy (0-17), tipoff scheduled for 7:00pm EST.  NKU leads the all-time series, 12-4.  Detroit Mercy is 0-6 in HL play this season and are being outscored by an average of 18 points per game.  The Titans are led by Jayden Stone (18.9 ppg – 5.8 rpg – 2 apg), but he has not played in a game since mid-December.  TV:  ESPN+ / RADIO FoxSports 1360AM

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