Homecoming heartbreak: Norse lose 20-point halftime lead against Milwaukee
January 30, 2023
The glitz and glamor of homecoming weekend is normally a time to celebrate, but the NKU men’s basketball team were left stunned on their own court after Saturday night.
In a battle to retain first place in the Horizon League where they led by as many as 23 points in the first half, the Norse shot 27% from the field and allowed 48 points in the second as they allowed a win to slip through their grasp against Milwaukee, losing 75-74 in the closing seconds.
Chris Brandon was one of the lone bright spots on the night for the Norse as the fifth-year forward had a double-double, dominating both the point totals and rebounds on the stat sheet with 18 and 17 respectively. Trey Robinson would tie his point total and lead the team in steals with four.
For Milwaukee, whereas they looked completely lost in the first half – having a 30.4% field goal percentage and giving up 47 points to a Norse offense that simply couldn’t be touched – they found their footing and then some in the second, with B.J. Freeman going off for 16 points, all 11 Panthers who checked in finishing the game in the scoring column, an 84.4% free throw percentage as a team, and a suffocating full-court press forcing eight turnovers.
Norse head coach Darrin Horn commented in the postgame presser that although his team played some of the best basketball they have all year in the first half, they regressed heavily in the second against a feisty Milwaukee squad and lacked a response to what was happening in the moment.
“The bottom line is that we have to give Milwaukee credit, they really came back and battled in the second half,” Horn said. “They didn’t do anything special, they just went ultra-aggressive, especially driving the basketball, and the difference in the game was ultimately the free throw line, they got to the free throw line so much because we stopped guarding the ball.”
Northern would begin the game red hot with a 7-0 run in the first two minutes punctuated by a three-point play from Marques Warrick. Brandon and Sam Vinson would get in the scoring column for the Norse as well, but Freeman and Markeith Browning III would help keep things close throughout the next three and a half for the Panthers as both had flawless shooting to pull them within two.
Then the Norse went on a complete tear. Robinson would score nine points off two threes and a trio of free throws, Xavier Rhodes would stay hot shooting the basketball after his birthday performance Thursday, and NKU held Milwaukee to just 1-9 shooting over the next 10:29 as they extended their lead to 35-13. Northern would keep the Panthers at a distance for the remainder of the half, never leading by less than 17.
At the beginning of the second half, Milwaukee would match NKU point-for-point until the first media timeout, and then they went all-in. Freeman would take over the offense with 12 points as the Norse offense went ice cold from the field, shooting 2-for-9 and 0-for-4 from beyond the arc. The Panthers would tie the game at 8:08 on a Zac Howell layup, completing a collapse scarily reminiscent of the 2022 Horizon League Championship Game against Wright State.
Milwaukee would take the lead on an alley-oop from Freeman finished by Ahmad Rand and fend off numerous attempts from NKU to retake the lead, but the Norse still had some fight in them. Despite still being on a cold streak from the field over the final six minutes (3-for-11 FG, 1-6 on three-pointers), Northern relied on leadership from Warrick and Trevon Faulkner down the stretch to keep things tight.
With 26 seconds remaining, the Norse would find themselves at a 75-70 disadvantage. Brandon would find the mark on a driving layup to make it a two-point game, and Warrick would play tenacious defense on an inbounds pass by stealing the ball and laying it in off the glass to make it 75-74 with 13 seconds on the clock.
After Robinson forced a turnover on an inbounds pass intended for Freeman in a matter of two seconds, Horn drew up a play for Faulkner to take the game-winning shot from three-point range. Faulkner would miss the initial attempt, but gathered the rebound and put up one last shot from the low post that was blocked by Browning as time ran out. Robinson was seemingly fouled by Moses Bol as he went up to take the board, but the officials didn’t make a call nor did they head to the scorer’s table to take a look at the monitor for a review of the play.
The Norse will have four days to wipe the taste of the loss out of their mouth as they hit the road for seven of their final eight games in the regular season. They begin a three-game tour of Horizon League schools Thursday as they travel to Robert Morris for their second face-off with the Colonials this season. The game tips-off at 7 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN+ and heard on ESPN 1530.