Men’s basketball beats Youngstown State in Horizon semifinal, gains shot at redemption
March 7, 2023
Coming off the heels of an exciting 81-74 quarterfinal win over Oakland, the NKU men’s basketball team continued their quest to exorcize their demons from last year’s Horizon League championship game Monday night, clinching their second consecutive Horizon League Tournament championship game appearance as they knocked off the number one seeded Youngstown State Penguins with a 75-63 semifinal victory.
After taking an 18-point loss to the Penguins in their last meeting, the Norse pulled out all the stops to ensure that they wouldn’t be downed a second time. Marques Warrick led all scorers with 22 points, followed closely by Sam Vinson’s 17 points. Chris Brandon was phenomenal on the boards for Northern, grabbing 17 rebounds on the night, which was made all the more impressive considering he was battling fellow prolific rebounder and former teammate Adrian Nelson on the boards.
Norse head coach Darrin Horn has been hammering home the point that it doesn’t matter where a team is seeded or what their record looks like come March as long as they are playing their best basketball, and he said during the postgame press conference that the Norse have been doing just that in the past two games.
“I thought our guys were really locked in on the things that we needed to do in order to play well, and that was to be aggressive on both ends, and I thought we did that in the first half for sure,” Horn said. “Offensively they made it hard for us, they pressured and really got home and took away threes, but our guys did a good job of driving the ball and playing through contact. A huge difference in the game was the number of times we got to the foul line and got to shoot it from there.”
It would be a shootout early on between both teams as YSU’s Dwayne Cohill would get the Penguins on the board first and give them the early momentum with a driving layup, but the Norse would fight their way into the lead at the 13:47 on the backs of Warrick and Vinson. The duo would combine for eight points during that time punctuated by a Vinson layup to take the lead.
Then Northern began to pour it on for the remainder of the half, running up the score to take a 40-25 lead at the half. Despite not getting the looks on the outside that they wanted, NKU thrived on driving the paint, especially Xavier Rhodes, who let his speed and versatility on the offensive side of the floor shine as he got a pair of driving layups early on in the run and drew a foul on a jump shot later on in the half for a three-point play.
The Norse would come out for the second half with a head of steam, going on a 7-0 run punctuated by a three from Vinson, but that steam quickly wore off. In a scene reminiscent of their last appearance in Indianapolis for the Horizon League Tournament, the Norse went on an ice cold streak as they went 2-for-16 from the field, including a five minute scoreless run that would be broken via a layup from Brandon at the 6:31 mark.
Youngstown State would take full advantage of this run as Cohill took full control of the Penguins’ offense, scoring nine for their reinvigorated shooting attack. However, the senior guard would foul out with a little over five and a half minutes remaining, ultimately proving to be a big blow to YSU.
Despite the cold streak and how history was seemingly repeating itself from NKU’s last appearance in Indianapolis in last year’s Horizon League Championship game, Warrick said that the focus was on showing poise in the moment and controlling what the Norse could control.
“In the game, we don’t think about the past or what’s led up to this point,” Warrick commented postgame. “The big difference between this year and last year is that we were more together during their runs. We responded well, I don’t think we let it get under a five or four point lead, but besides that, we really responded well together and didn’t let our heads get down when they made runs because we expected them to make shots.”
And despite more adversity being thrown their way in the form of Rhodes fouling out with 4:44 left in regulation, the Norse responded as it became the Warrick and Vinson show down the stretch. The two were the main focal points of the offense as they received most of the touches over the final four minutes as they scored nine combined, with Trey Robinson and Trevon Faulkner finding their way to the line to contribute as well as the NKU shut down any thought of a Penguins comeback.
With the win, the Norse find themselves back in the same spot as last year – one win away from a Horizon League championship and a chance to dance in the NCAA tournament. Vinson said that the team’s headspace heading into Tuesday’s matchup against Cleveland State is the same it’s been all year – getting the job done when it matters most.
“It’s been our goal this whole year to get back to the finals and to win this thing this year, so the same mindset, going in there and being aggressive on both sides of the ball, and we’re just trying to get this W,” Vinson said.
The Norse will square off against the Vikings in the championship game Tuesday night at Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis, In. The game is set to tip off at 7 p.m. and will be broadcasted nationally on ESPN, and can also be heard on ESPN 1530.