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Memphis rallies from 16-point deficit, escapes with thrilling 76-74 win over NKU on Saturday night

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By Don Owen
NKyTribune sports reporter

MEMPHIS – Double-digit leads in the first half mean very little in college basketball, especially if the advantage is built on an opponent’s home floor.

Just ask Northern Kentucky University, which thoroughly dominated the host Memphis Tigers for most of the opening 15 minutes Saturday night. The Norse led by as many as 16 points, but watched as the Tigers successfully attacked the basket and stormed from behind to escape with a 76-74 win in the FedExForum.

Memphis (3-1) constantly went inside and finished with a 42-30 advantage in points in the paint. The Tigers used a 12-2 run in the second half to turn a 56-47 deficit into a 59-58 lead, then held on to defeat NKU in the first-ever meeting between the two programs.

Trailing by a point (75-74) with 22.1 seconds remaining in the game, NKU had a chance to regain the lead after Jimario Rivers missed a pair of free throws. The Norse’s Lavone Holland II drove into the lane, drew contact and attempted a tightly contested shot, which bounced off the rim and was rebounded by Memphis.

Jamal Johnson made one of two free throws with 5.3 seconds left to push the Memphis lead to 76-74. On NKU’s final possession, Holland II attempted a contested 3-pointer that was off target as the buzzer sounded.

NKU’s John Brannen

“Lavone made a nice move getting to the rim when we were down a point,” NKU head coach John Brannen said of the next-to-last play. “On the road, you have to finish the shot. He made a great move, it just didn’t drop.”

Holland II scored 19 points and dished out eight assists for NKU, which dropped to 4-2. The Norse built a 29-13 lead with 8:13 remaining in the first half when Dantez Walton buried a 3-pointer, but Memphis counted with a 10-2 spurt to slice the Norse lead to 31-23 on a 3-pointer by Jeremiah Martin.

NKU scored the next six points to increase its advantage to 37-23 with less than four minutes to go before intermission, but the Tigers responded with an 8-3 run to close the half and whittled the Norse’s lead to 40-31.

Holland II and Jordan Garnett each netted eight points during the opening half, while Carson Williams added seven points. The Norse limited Memphis to just 37.5 percent shooting from the field in the first half.

That changed in the second half as Memphis aggressively took the ball the basket to either draw fouls or score on layups and dunks. The Tigers converted 62.5 percent of their shots during the final 20 minutes.

“Their length and athleticism hurt us inside,” Brannen said. “Memphis is a well-coached team and they understood they needed to take the ball to the rim. We had a hard time stopping them off the bounce.”

NKU’s Jordan Garnett

Memphis eventually forged a 73-65 lead with two minutes remaining, but NKU responded with 3-pointers from Drew McDonald and Garnett, sandwiched around a tip-in basket by Walton. Garnett’s long 3-pointer with 22.1 seconds on the clock set the stage for the wild finish.

Garnett finished with 15 points, including a trio of 3-pointers. McDonald added 10 points and eight rebounds. Williams and Mason Faulkner both chipped in nine points for the Norse, who were 11-for-30 from 3-point range.

Rivers led Memphis with 17 points, while teammate Kyvon Davenport scored 16. Martin added 15 points for the Tigers, who won rebounding battle by a 39-30 margin.

Having played four straight games away from home, NKU’s two losses are by a combined four points. In both those setbacks, the Norse held double-digit leads.

“We’re two possessions away from being 6-0,” Brannen said, noting NKU’s 66-64 loss to Vermont last week in the Bahamas. “These players have traveled a great deal lately, they deserve a great crowd at home this week. They’ve really played well and we’re literally a couple of shots away from being undefeated.”

NKU plays host to Berea at 7 p.m. Wednesday, followed by a clash with in-state rival Morehead State next Saturday at 7 p.m. in BB&T Arena.

NORSE NOTES: Holland II was named the Horizon League’s Player of the Week for his performance at the Islands of the Bahamas Showcase last weekend. The senior guard averaged 16.3 points, 5.0 assists, 2.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals. He was also named to the Islands of the Bahamas Showcase all-tournament team.

Contact Don Owen at don@nkytrib.com

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