NKU men’s basketball defeats Ball State in thriller to begin 2020-21 season
Norse improve to 1-0 on the season with the victory
November 25, 2020
The Northern Kentucky Norse men’s basketball team defeated the Ball State Cardinals on Wednesday night 74-73, improving to 1-0 on the new season.
For the Norse, junior guard Trevon Faulkner led the team in scoring with 17 points, while junior forward Adrian Nelson grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds.
“I think [Faulkner is] a Player of the Year-type player in our league, and we’re going to play through him,” Head Coach Darrin Horn said. “I thought he played with great pace and, at the same time, great patience offensively in the first half.”
The game was closely contested throughout the evening, as the two teams continued to trade baskets after the Norse got off to a quick 7-0 start. That would turn out to be the largest lead of the night for NKU, as the Cardinals continued to draw closer. Ball State never held a lead in the first half, though they did trim the score to one point on multiple occasions in the half, and entered the halftime break trailing by three, 44-41.
Both teams posted excellent shooting percentages during the first half, as each shot 50 percent from the floor, while the Norse shot 38.5 percent from three in the half, and 70 percent from the free-throw line.
That hot shooting did not continue into the second half, as the Norse went cold, particularly from three, converting on just 3 of 15 attempts from beyond the arc. Even worse, the team shot just 38.5 percent from the free-throw line.
However, the Norse were able to convert on the important buckets when they needed them, on the backs of their veteran players.
Down by three with 1:40 remaining, senior wing Adham Eleeda nailed a three-pointer to tie the game at 70. Following a two-point basket and free-throw from Ball State’s Ishmael El-Amin, junior point guard Bryson Langdon connected on his second field goal of the night with 22 seconds remaining, a corner three that gave the Norse the final lead of the night at 74-73.
NKU hunkered down for two key defensive stops in the closing seconds to seal the victory and improve to 1-0 on the 2020-21 campaign.
“We talked to our guys really at halftime, and throughout the whole second half, that we have got to make more hustle plays, we have got to be more active defensively, and we have got to do the little things,” Horn said. “Especially late, we just talked about getting stops.”
Career Night for Nelson
Adrian Nelson has become known around NKU and the Horizon League as an outstanding rebounder, but few expected the performance he put on Wednesday, grabbing a career-high 19 rebounds, 10 of which were offensive rebounds. The junior also contributed 10 points to complete his second career double-double.
“Last year, I was one of the main rebounders and now this year, I have to pick it up,” Nelson said. “Now I’m fully healthy, and I’m not only crashing every time, but also making sure my guy doesn’t get [the rebound].
Horn was particularly enamored with the rebounding clinic that his junior forward displayed on Wednesday night.
“Just absolutely monstrous,” Horn said.
Pair of Freshmen earn major minutes
The Norse came into the season with a handful of juniors ready to embrace the roles left by several departing stars, but knew they would need contributions from the incoming freshmen to compete for victories consistently.
“We have adjusted our offensive system to be able to use multiple guys,” Horn said. “Obviously Trevon is going to be the focus of what we do, but we feel like we have got young players that are really capable and versatile that can make plays off the bounce, they can shoot, and finish at the basket,” Horn said.
They received two enormous contributions tonight from a pair of freshmen in guards Marques Warrick and Trey Robinson. Warrick finished second on the team with 14 points in the game, and was second in minutes behind Langdon. Robinson chipped in 11 points, along with four assists. The duo combined for eight assists and seven rebounds in the contest.
“If there was ever a guy wired to score, it’s ‘Ques,’” Horn said.
Horn also had a rave review of the job done by Robinson tonight in his first game at NKU.
“He showed his athleticism. He got in the paint; he finished at the basket, had a huge deflection late defensively using his length,” Horn said about Robinson.
Freshman David Bohm added three points in 13 minutes of action, while junior Darius Harding played three minutes in each of their first career games for NKU.
“When we bring new guys in, they’re automatically family when they come in, so being in practice for three months just really got us familiar with each other and build great bonds together,” Nelson said.
BB&T Arena using artificial crowd noise to enhance game experience
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, NKU came to the decision that it would not allow spectators at home sporting events until at least January. As a result, the arena was often eerily quiet during crucial moments in the game.
To add the feeling of a ‘normal’ game experience for the players, coaches and officials during the COVID-19 pandemic that has permitted fans from attending home games at NKU, BB&T Arena pumped in artificial crowd noise over the intercom during the game, though the noise came to a halt when the Norse were shooting free throws.
“We miss the fans,” Horn said. “It’s obvious that they’re not here and we appreciate you watching and following us, and we can’t wait to get back,” Horn said.
The Norse will travel to Chattanooga, Tennessee on Saturday afternoon to take on the Chattanooga Mocs out of the Southern Conference at 2:00 p.m.
Fans can watch the game on ESPN+ or listen to the radio broadcast on 55KRC. The next home game for the Norse is currently scheduled for Dec. 3 against Tennessee Tech.