Norse shock Raiders in HL quarterfinals, 99-97

Photo courtesy of Northern Kentucky Athletics

Advance to semis, face No. 6 seed Milwaukee

If the Horizon League is known consistently for anything in its post-season tournament, it’s a complete lack of predictability.  Year in and year out, lower seeds have had a propensity to topple higher seeds, shaking up the natural order of things, proving that at the end of the day…seeds mean very little.  This post-season is proving to be no exception.

On Thursday night in Wright State University’s Nutter Center, the fifth-seeded Northern Kentucky University men’s basketball team overcame multiple double-digit deficits to end No. 4 seed Wright State’s post-season run in thrilling fashion, dumping them in overtime on their home court, 99-97.

This came on the same night that Milwaukee (#6) dropped Green Bay (#3) and Cleveland State (#7) overcame Youngstown State (#2)…Oakland (#1) was the only higher seed to survive the annual culling that is the Horizon League Tournament Quarterfinals, dusting Purdue-Fort Wayne (#8) at home.

Both teams entered the game Thursday night with short, banged-up benches and starters that have routinely been run ragged the last half of the season. 

Senior guard Marques Warrick continued to make his case he should have received more consideration for conference Player of the Year, pouring in 35 points on 11-of-18 shooting from the field to spur a torrid shooting night for the Norse.  As a team, the Norse shot 67.7% from the field in the second half and only missed one shot in overtime in the come-from-behind win.

The game didn’t quite kick off in promising fashion for the Norse.  Freshman guard Randall Pettus II scored the first two points of the game in the first minute of action, and then the game quickly took a drastic turn for the worse.

After Pettus II got the Norse on the board, the home team took the reins and quickly exerted their will on the Norse. 

  • A quick layup by Brandon Noel
    • An easy bucket in the paint by Tanner Holden
      • A slick layup by AJ Braun
        • A long three-pointer from Holden
          • An easy jumper by Alex Huibregtse
            • Another layup by Noel
              • A fastbreak lay-in from Holden
                • 20 seconds, later Braun sinks another easy shot for the Raiders 

What you see above is a game literally sliding downhill fast on a slant.  If you jumped up to go grab a quick soda after Pettus II scored, you would have come back to see Wright State up, 17-2, less than five minutes into the game.  That early 15-0 run on their home court should have been all the Raiders needed to demoralize the Norse into rolling over the rest of the way out.  That didn’t happen.

Late in the first half, the Norse were down by as many as 17 points, but with about three minutes left in the half, the Norse remained poised and methodically trimmed the lead back. 

A jumper by senior wing Trey Robinson brought the lead down to 11 – then another jumper by Warrick – a long trey from Pettus II – then a crafty jumper by grad senior Michael Bradley in the paint with just 0:08 left on the clock. 

The Norse then held strong on the Raiders’ last possession, snuffing out the home team’s chance to score before the buzzer, carrying a much more manageable seven-point deficit (40-33) into the locker room at halftime.

The second half went much the same way as the last three minutes of the first half for the Norse.  While the Raiders did stretch their lead to nine at one point, the Norse slowly shaved the lead down over the course of the second stanza.  Hot shooting, getting defensive stops at opportune times, hitting nearly 68% of their shots, sinking five timely treys, converting 82% of their free throws…without all of these happening, the Norse don’t level the score up at 71-all at the 6:47 mark.  Nor would they have been in the position to go on to tie the game at the buzzer on Pettus II’s stick-back jumper off Robinson’s missed free throw as time expired. 

After 40 minutes of frenetic play, the heated rivals closed out regulation deadlocked at 89.  Horizon League basketball in March is must-see TV, and just looking through college hoops scores from Thursday night, this game looked to be the most exciting of all.

In overtime, the Norse left everything out on the court, flying from station to station, wrestling for every loose ball, giving the Raiders no room to breathe and making the most of each possession by taking smart shots. 

In the overtime period, the Norse only missed one shot and took advantage of Wright State’s defensive miscues, got to the line and scored four of its 10 OT points from the charity stripe.  Though Pettus II missed two straight free throws with just 0:08 left in the overtime period, the Norse were able to quickly get back on defense and shut down the Raiders’ last look at the basket.

The More NK(U) Know:

Ques Warrick:  35 points – FG 61% – 9/9 from FT line – 2 boards – 3 steals

  • Now averaging 20.4 ppg (ranked #2, just 0.4 ppg behind leader) and leads Horizon League with 653 points on the season
  • Horizon League All-League First Team

Trey Robinson:  17 points – FG 46% – 12 boards – 3 assists

  • Averaging 11.0 ppg – 6.9 rpg
  • Horizon League “Defensive Player of the Year”

Michael Bradley:  17 points – FG 58.3% – 3 boards – 4 assists – 2 steals

  • Now averaging 10.0 ppg

Randall Pettus II:  16 points – FG 58.3% – 6 boards – 2 assists – 2 steals

  • Horizon League All-Freshman Team  

LJ Wells:  6 points – 5 boards – 2 assists

Jeramiah Israel:  5 points – 1 board – 1 assist

Keeyan Itejere:  3 points – 2 boards – 1 assist

  • Limited to 16 minutes due to injury
  • HoriZone Roundtable Defensive Player of the Year

With the overtime win, the Norse advance to the Horizon League semifinals and will play Milwaukee, who have now won five straight games after their upset win over in-state rival Green Bay in the quarterfinals. 

The rest of the Horizon League Tournament moving forward will be played at the historic Indiana Farmers Coliseum, and the Norse will battle the Panthers on Monday, March 11 at 9:30pm EST for the right to advance to the finals, where an NCAA Tournament berth is at stake.  The game will be broadcast live nationally on ESPN2. Tune in!


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