Norse Update: Men split last two games

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Photo courtesy of Northern Kentucky Athletics

NKU still fighting way up HL standings

After winning three straight Horizon League contests – two of those wins coming against teams above them in the standings – the Northern Kentucky University men’s basketball team had a prime chance to sneak further up the conference ladder.  The win streak placed the Norse (15-13, 10-7 HL) back into the running for one of the top four seeds in the end-of-season tournament…a crucial get for a team living in a one-bid world.

Three games, three wins all coated with a little extra sauce.

The home 99-89 overtime win over first place Oakland was sublime, a nice appetizer preceding the main course.

Then came the main course, a 79-67 drubbing of basement-dweller Detroit Mercy.  The home win over the then-winless Titans saw NKU’s all-time scoring mark shattered by senior guard Marques Warrick, a moment he got to share with his family and friends on his home turf.  Priceless. 

Then came the dessert, a decadent dub at top-shelf Green Bay, stamping the Phoenix with their only home conference loss this season. 

This series of most-fortunate events gave the Norse added momentum going into its next two games, both match-ups against teams equal to or below them in the conference standings.  

After dessert, the Norse boarded their bus and headed for Milwaukee, fresh-faced and rearing to extend their winning ways over the Panthers…then back to the cozy confines of Truist Arena where they would look to lock up a crucial win over Cleveland State.

Although the Norse led the Panthers by two possessions (71-66) with just 2:25 left on the game clock, they were unable to pin the home team all the way down.  With the game clock reading 00:01, the Norse seemingly conceded a lightly contested three-point attempt by senior guard Angelo Stuart – the shot found its mark, sending the Norse home with a tough loss and Milwaukee up closer to the Norse in the conference standings.

The Norse had the game in the proverbial bag, and led the entire second half from just shy of the 18:00 mark moving forward…all the way up to the last second.  Taking 22 three-point shots and hitting just 27% of them in a game where you lose by one point…is especially hard to stomach.  One could argue that the Panthers chucked up 36 of their own treys…that’s fair, but that’s also part of their brand, it’s something they hang their hat on as they creep up on fourth in the conference in treys attempted per game.  

Second half shot selection has been quizzical at times this season for the Norse, especially choosing the long ball over high percentage shots when looking to nurse or build a lead.  They sit near the bottom in the league in three-point shooting percentage, just a hiccup above hapless IUPUI and Detroit Mercy.  Not exactly the company they should be looking to keep when they have a trio of players with length who can put the ball on the ground and score with relative ease.   

As is the case more often than not, the Norse returned home and took care of business, sending Cleveland State packing to the tune of a 75-73 loss.  Another game, another one-possession affair.  
In a game between conference Player of the Year candidates, Viking senior forward Tristan Enaruna put 25 points up on the board for the visitors.  Not to be outdone, Ques Warrick played arguably his most complete game of the season, lighting the nets up for 27 points on 7/16 shooting from the field for the Norse…but more importantly 12/12 from the charity stripe.  Warrick also added 5 assists and a career high 7 rebounds to his name. 

Sophomore wing LJ Wells (17 points – 7 rebounds) and senior wing Trey Robinson (12 points – 10 rebounds) both packed the box score for the Norse as well. 

The two foes both came into the contest 9-7 in the conference, so the win for the Norse gave them some separation from the Vikings.  However, splitting the last two games leaves the Norse treading water and pits them in an uneasy fifth place spot due to two-way tie for the fourth seed between Wright State and Youngstown State (11-6).

That said, some will say “three games in March” are the only games that truly matter for a mid-major team playing in a mid-major conference.  

Editorial take:  Perhaps, but a team trying to break free of teeter-tottering around .500 sure could afford to snag a higher seed that gives them the best chance to win all three games, nes pas?  

Sure, the cliche of the “three-game season” is tried and true, it’s fun to say and it sounds edgy…trying to win those games with a sub-4 seed…on the road…is bad, in fact very bad for the Norse, who sport a 4-10 road record this season.  Logic 1, Cliche 0.

Head coach Darrin Horn’s squad has three games remaining on the season, and you have to believe every single one of those is a must-win right now…especially the road trip to Wright State on March 2 – if NKU is to sneak into a #4 seed, they are going to have to go through the Nutter Center in Dayton where the Raiders (16-12, 11-6) average a few shy of 4,000 fans per game.    

Next up for the Norse:

Sunday, 2/25/24:  IUPUI (6-22, 2-15) @ NKU – Tipoff 2:00pm EST

TV/Stream:  Bally Sports Ohio / Radio: ESPN 1530 AM 

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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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