There were plenty of emotions in BB&T Arena Monday night, as NKU honored their three seniors Lavone Holland II, Jordan Garnett and Nick Ayers. The crowd was loud as each player received their framed jersey and shook hands with head coach John Brannen.
For Holland though, he wishes those emotions been put on hold until after the game.
“I wish we could move the ceremony to after the game so we could stay more focused,” Holland said.
Fortunately, the Norse were able to exit the court with the same joy they entered BB&T with this evening.
Northern Kentucky University’s men’s basketball took home a victory on Monday night over Youngstown State, sending the senior class out on a winning note. The victory marks the final home game of the season.
Norse Nation, (@NKUValhalla) another great year in the books at BB&T Arena! But this one was the best one yet! It was a great time to play in front of you all! The year is not over yet tho! Hope to see you all in Detroit!
— Drew McDonald (@atmcdonald33) February 20, 2018
The Norse move to 20-8 on the season and 13-3 in conference play while the Penguins fall to 8-22 and 6-11 in Horizon League play.
Wright State (21-8, 13-3) defeated Cleveland State in the Nutter Center this evening, keeping the Norse in second place in the Horizon League standings. UIC (17-12, 12-4) also beat Detroit Mercy to hold the third place spot ahead of their game with NKU on Friday.
Drew McDonald was the high scorer tonight, finishing with 27 points, which ties his season high. He also grabbed 12 rebounds and made four of his nine threes. It is his 15th double double of the season, which vaults in to 11 in the nation in the category
In the first meeting between the teams, McDonald had an eerily similar game, scoring 26 points and grabbing 16 boards.
“I think they just forget to guard him,” Holland said.
Jordan Garnett finishes his NKU home career with a 10 point performance on 4-7 shooting while Lavone Holland finished with seven points, six rebounds and four assists.
“It felt really good,” Garnett said. “Just going out there and doing what I do. Just playing and not thinking and trying to help the team win.”
Carson Williams finished with 10 points.
The Norse held Youngstown State’s leading scorer Cameron Morse to 11 points on 5-17 shooting. He did manage to dish out eight assists. Jaylen Benton was the second highest Penguin scorer, finishing with nine points on 3-10 shooting. The Penguins shot just 33 percent as a team for the game.
“We were flying around,” Brannen said. “I thought Jalen Tate was great. I thought Jordan Garnett was awesome defensively. In fact I didn’t think there was a single guy that stepped on the floor that wasn’t committed, focused and gave great energy defensively. When we play defense like that we have a chance to win a lot of games.”
Much like Friday’s game against Wright State, the Norse got off to a slow offensive start, shooting just around 33 percent midway through the half.
“There was no flow to the game,” Brannen said. “There were a lot of whistles. Youngstown controlled the tempo and that seems to be the m.o. right now. Keep it a low possession game for NKU and we are falling into that too much. It was kind of muddy.”
In contrast to the last time these two teams met, which resulted in a 95-85 Norse victory, the Penguins slowed the pace of play and turn it into a possession game.
“It didn’t catch us off guard but it was definitely different than the last time we played,” Garnett said.
McDonald who scored 16 first half points on 6-9 shooting. The Norse forced nine turnovers and were able to hold Cameron Morse to seven points on 3-7 shooting but Morse did dish out five assists in the half.
Both teams finished the half shooting under 40 percent, with NKU shooting 37.9 percent while the Penguins shot just over 35 percent. Youngstown State was just 4-16 from behind the arc while NKU was 5-14.
The Norse shooting improved in the second half, posting a 52.2 percent field goal percentage while holding the Penguins to just 31 percent.
The Penguins still found a way to hang around, forcing 15 Norse turnovers. Jordan Garnett would hit a three with nine minutes remaining to push the Norse lead to 10, 52-42, but the Penguins didn’t trail by more than ten until just until under the six minute mark, after a McDonald and-one.
The Norse will begin preparing for Friday’s matchup with UIC, the current three seed in the Horizon League tournament. As far as keeping the second seed, NKU controls their own destiny and will likely keep the two seed with a win over the Flames.
The last time the two teams met, NKU blew the Flames out, scoring 49 first half points and keeping UIC to just 16 and defeating the Flames 86-51. Since, UIC has gone on a tear, winning eight of their last nine conference games.