Holland propels Norse to homecoming win

The NKU men’s basketball team overcame a 13 point deficit late in the second half to beat Milwaukee 69-63 on homecoming night at BB&T Arena.The Norse improve to 17-9 and 8-5 in the Horizon League while Milwaukee falls to 4-10 in Horizon League play and 8-19 overall.

The Norse improve to 17-9 and 8-5 in the Horizon League while Milwaukee falls to 4-10 in Horizon League play and 8-19 overall.

“I was really proud of our team at the end,” head coach John Brannen said. “Lavone Holland took the game over offensively.”

Holland II took over the second half, scoring 19 second half points to bring the Norse back from a 13-point deficit with 7:49 remaining. He made two thunderous dunks that lifted BB&T Arena to its feet as well as the layup that gave the Norse the lead with 3:50 remaining.

“It kinda feels normal because I’m used to seeing Drew or Cole do it,” Holland said. “If one person is struggling there’s always one person who can take over. I feel like for me to do it it’s just another game for us.” 

Holland finished with 21 points and four assists, but that wasn’t where Brannen thought he excelled the most tonight.

“Lavone took over defensively. He was all over the place. He has the ability to do that on a consistent basis,” Brannen said. “I told him today that he showed it and now he has to continue to do it.

“When he gets like that offensively I just try to stay out of his way.”

Holland recorded four steals, while Brandon Maxwell stole two. Maxwell replaced Dantez Walton after he fouled out and played a major role for the Norse down the stretch.

“When we had (Holland) and Maxwell on the floor, it really stagnated all the success they were having. That turned into offense for us,” Brannen said. “This team’s identity has turned into next man up,” Brannen said. “Tonight it was Brandon Maxwell coming off the bench providing tremendous effort and energy defensively.” 

Drew McDonald finished with 13 points and six rebounds while Walton finished with 11 points and four rebounds before he fouled out midway through the second half. 

The Norse struggled to keep up with the Panthers three-point shooting most of the night. Cody Wichmann went 5 for 9 from three for the game and finished with 19 points. The Panthers as a whole shot 40 percent from three and 52 percent from the field.

The Norse shot just 37 percent in the first half and went 4 for 15 from downtown, while the Panthers made seven first half threes. 

“They are a difficult team to play. When they go out and make seven threes in the first six minutes then they are really potent,” Brannen said. “Then they force you to guard late in the shot clock. That’s not the style we want to play and they dominated with it until the end.”

Even at the eight-minute mark, the Norse were just shooting 36 percent for the night and were allowing Milwaukee to shoot 55 percent. 

“Throughout the whole game we were just struggling with our energy,” Holland said. “They were beating us to 50/50 balls and beating us on the glass. We just made a decision that we were going to start getting those 50/50 balls.”

The Norse improved their shooting percentage to 46 percent in those final seven minutes. They also outrebounded Milwaukee 31-26.  

Brannen believes they might not have been able to come back if it weren’t for the 4,963 fans that made the trip to BB&T Arena for this homecoming game. 

“We don’t win that game without the way the atmosphere was,” Brannen said. “The way they took on the energy in the building, everything went towards us at that point.”

The building was rocking after Holland’s dunk with seven minutes remaining and the fans were on their feet after Holland’s layup to take the lead. 

McDonald also recognized how important the crowd was to the Norse victory and hopes this team will get to play in front of more crowds like it.

“It’s great. They can pick us up if something isn’t going right. One basket and the crowd goes nuts and it changes the whole momentum around,” McDonald said. “If we can keep getting crowds like this it will help us out a lot.”

Brannen thinks this was an important game to prepare the Norse for the Horizon League tournament in a few weeks.

“What you want as a coach is you want your guys to be able to handle a lot of different situations going into the end of the season and tournament play,” Brannen said. “I don’t think we’ve been down 13 that late and come back so that was another thing to go through for us.”

The Norse will hit the road for the final time in the regular season when they face Cleveland State on Thursday and then Youngstown State on Saturday. The Norse will then finish the regular season with three straight home games. 

Basalyga honored

During the first half of tonight’s game, NKU honored John Basalyga, introducing him on the court. That was followed by a video presentation about his career at the university. 

Basalyga retired in December from his position as the men’s soccer coach. He led the team to a National Championship in 2010 and finished his career with a 161-88-38 record. For more on Basalyga’s career, check out the John Basalyga Story.