Horizon League run ends abruptly in quarterfinals for NKU

Christopher Decker, Managing Editor

For the third year in a row, the number one seed in the Horizon League tournament fell in the quarterfinal round.

The Northern Kentucky men’s basketball team fell to Cleveland State 89-80 in Little Caesars Arena. The Norse are now 22-9 on the season and will be eligible to play in the National Invitational Tournament. Cleveland State will advance to play the winner of IUPUI/Oakland on Monday.

“Obviously a difficult loss,” NKU head coach John Brannen said. “You gotta credit Cleveland State and the plays they made through the course of the end of the game.”

Cleveland State didn’t lead until the 3:23 mark in the second half, when Tyler Appleby hit two free throws to give the Vikings a 74-73. Drew McDonald would hit two free throws on the other end, but that would be the last time the Norse would have the lead.

Kenny Carpenter gave the Vikings the lead after a layup and a free throw, followed by a Stefan Kenic three and an Appleby three to give Cleveland State an eight point lead with 1:13 remaining. The Norse wouldn’t recover and failed to make a field goal in the final five minutes of play.

The Vikings shot 58 percent in the second half and outscored NKU 61-47.

“We were the number one defensive team in our league and gave up 61 second half points,” Brannen said. “It’s very difficult to win in any environment, particularly in a tournament environment where momentum can be built. We couldn’t really control the Appleby kid.”

Appleby finished with 24 points seven rebounds and four assists.

“He just lived in the lane on us,” McDonald said. “If he wasn’t finishing at the rim or drawing fouls he was kicking out and putting us in rotations and that hurt us the entire second half.”

Kenic finished with 17 points and four rebounds. Carpenter chipped in 15 points, six assists and six rebounds.

McDonald finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds and Lavone Holland II scored 15 points and dished out five assists.

Foul trouble dogged the Norse in the second half, as Jalen Tate and Mason Faulkner played most of the second half with four fouls while Holland picked up his fourth midway through the second half. Tate fouled out with just over six minutes remaining in the game.

“I thought we became very tentative once we fouled,” Brannen said. “We couldn’t get in our press. We had multiple guys with multiple fouls in the first half.”

Early on, it appeared NKU would cruise to an easy victory, after building a 21-9 lead with 8:29 left in the first half. At that point, NKU was shooting 47 percent and Cleveland State was shooting 18 percent.

However, a couple threes by Bobby Word and the Vikings launched them back into contention with six minutes to go in the first half.

The Vikings would get as close as two points in the first half, cutting the Norse lead to 29-27 in the closing minutes. Dantez Walton would end the first half on a positive note, tipping in a Lavone Holland miss to give NKU a 33-28 halftime lead.

NKU ended the first half shooting 43 percent from the field while the Vikings picked their shooting percentage up to 37 percent.  

Drew McDonald led all scorers with nine points in the half while Lavone Holland II scored eight points. Kenny Carpenter scored six points in the half while Bobby Word scored five.

After the Vikings tied the game with a three after halftime, NKU was able to answer most Vikings baskets, keeping the score between a one and four point lead.

At one point, the Norse were shooting 58 percent in the second half and Cleveland State was shooting just under 58 percent.

“I would have liked to keep a one point lead for a little bit longer and see what happens but once they got the lead and started hitting shot, it really came about our inability to shrink the floor,” Brannen said.

There is a silver lining. NKU is eligible to play in the NIT in a few weeks. The full field will be selected March 9-11 and the tournament begins on Tuesday, March 13. The first three rounds are played at on-campus sites, meaning NKU could have at least one more home game.

Stay tuned to the Northerner for more coverage of NKU basketball.