DETROIT — One of the youngest teams in the Division I basketball is now the highest remaining seed in its conference tournament.
The NKU men’s basketball team won its first-ever Horizon League tournament game Sunday night, defeating Wright State 82-77 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
With upsets of top seeds Oakland, Valparaiso and Green Bay, the fourth-seeded Norse are the top remaining seed. NKU advances to take on Youngstown State 7 p.m. Monday. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
The Norse defeated Wright State in all three meetings this season. All three games were played in the span of 29 days.
“Playing them the third time in a matter of weeks is very different than what we normally go through in terms of preparation,” NKU head coach John Brannen said. “It was just watching our games to prepare for them.”
After a tight, low-scoring first half, both offenses exploded in the second half. The two teams combined for 103 points.
“It looked like two teams that hadn’t played in a week,” Brannen said. “The first 10 or 15 minutes of the game was all defense. I thought our defense sustained itself and allowed us to put ourselves in position to have a good second half.”
Northern Kentucky overcame an outstanding performance by Wright State’s Grant Benzinger by not missing a shot for more than 10 minutes in the second half.
Benzinger scored 15 points in a 5:25 stretch of the second half. Unfortunately for Wright State, it was during a stretch when NKU made 14 straight from the floor.
From Dantez Walton’s layup with 12:24 left to Cole Murray’s layup with 2:53 remaining, the Norse did not miss.
During that time, Northern Kentucky’s lead went from two to 10.
After scoring just 10 points in the paint in the first half, NKU scored 28 in the second half, led by Carson Williams. Williams had just two points in the first half but scored 15 in the second half.
Brannen said once they were able to score inside, it opened up the whole offense for the Norse.
“Then we started getting our inside-outside game flowing,” Brannen said.
Williams led the Norse with 17 points. Lavone Holland II added 16 points and nine assists.
Benzinger finished with 29 points and eight rebounds for the Raiders. Mark Alstork added 22 points. Justin Mitchell had 12 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.
In addition to the fourth-seeded Norse, the other three teams remaining are the sixth-seeded UIC Flames, the ninth-seeded Youngstown State Penguins and the 10th-seeded Milwaukee Panthers. One of those teams will earn the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
If NKU, in its first year of eligibility, is thinking about that possibility, the players aren’t talking about it publicly.
“We have to lock in more … concentrate more on ourselves,” Holland said. “Basically not get too excited about what’s happening on the other side of the bracket. Just lock in on our next game.”
Sunday, March 5, 2017
At Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, Michigan
Horizon League Quarterfinals
Northern Kentucky 82, Wright State 77
W — 27 – 50 — 77
N — 29 – 53 — 82
(77) WRIGHT STATE (fg-3fg-ft-tp) Davis 1-0-2-4, Mitchell 5-0-2-12, Benzinger 9-7-4-29, Alstork 7-4-4-22, Hughes 1-0-2-4, Ernsthausen 3-0-0-6. TOTALS 26-11-14-77.
(82) NORTHERN KENTUCKY (fg-3fg-ft-tp) Garnett 3-2-2-10, Williams 6-0-5-17, McDonald 2-2-2-8, Murray 1-0-2-4, Holland 6-1-3-16, Garrett 3-0-1-7, Faulkner 3-2-2-10, Gillis 1-1-0-3, Walton 3-1-0-7. TOTALS 28-9-17-82.
FIELD GOALS: W 26/60 (Benzinger 9/19, Alstork 7/15, Mitchell 5/10); N 28/55 (Williams 6/7, Holland 6/15)
3 POINT FIELD GOALS: W 11/31 (Benzinger 7/14, Alstork 4/8); N 9/26
FREE THROWS: W 14/19 (Benzinger 4/4, Alstork 4/7); N 17/29 (Williams 5/6)
REBOUNDS: W 38 (Mitchell 12, Benzinger 8); N 32 (Walton 6, McDonald 6, Williams 5)
ASSISTS: W 14 (Mitchell 7, Alstork 3); N 13 (Holland 9)
STEALS: W 4; N 8 (Garnett 2, Gillis 2)
BLOCKED SHOTS: W 1; N 2
TURNOVERS: W 14; N 8