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NKU holds off Green Bay, 86-80, takes sole possession of first place in Horizon League

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By Don Owen
NKyTribune reporter

Surfing the internet for the latest Horizon League scores will be unnecessary for Northern Kentucky University basketball fans if the Norse continue winning.

It’s one of the benefits for a first-place team that now controls its regular-season destiny.

NKU’s Lavone Holland II drives for a layup in the first half. Holland finished with 17 points. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

NKU made any scoreboard watching irrelevant Saturday night during an 86-80 victory against Green Bay in front of a homecoming crowd of 6,455 at BB&T Arena. Coupled with Milwaukee’s stunning 74-73 upset at Wright State on Saturday, the Norse are now in sole possession of first place in the Horizon League with a 12-2 record.

Wright State (11-3) had entered that game tied with NKU atop the Horizon League standings. The Raiders are now alone in second place, thanks to Cleveland State’s shocking 86-78 win at Illinois-Chicago (10-4) on Saturday night.

NKU (19-7 overall) jumped all over Green Bay early, making 11 of its first 15 shots (73.3 percent) to build a 27-17 lead. The Norse stretched the advantage to 47-32 late in the first half on a Jordan Garnett layup in transition that was assisted by Drew McDonald and settled for a 47-37 edge at the break.

Unfazed by the 10-point deficit, Green Bay knocked down a trio of 3-pointers during the first four minutes of the second half and trailed just 54-51 after a Sandy Cohen III trey. NKU pushed the lead to 62-56 when Tyler Sharpe made a pair of free throws, but Green Bay countered with a 12-4 run to take a 68-66 advantage on a 3-pointer by T.J. Parham with 9:45 remaining in the game.

“I thought [Green Bay] made some really difficult shots, even though we did a good job defensively,” NKU head coach John Brannen said. “Green Bay’s physicality and toughness is a challenge for any team, and they are playing really well right now.”

NKU, which finished 19-for-20 at the charity stripe, regained the lead at 70-68 after Mason Faulkner and Lavone Holland II each converted a pair of free throws. The Norse led from that point forward, thanks to the outside marksmanship of Sharpe.

NKU’s Jordan Garnett attempts a jumper against Green Bay. Garnett scored 10 points and added six assists in the victory. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

With NKU holding a 72-71 lead, Sharpe drained a long 3-pointer to extend the advantage to 75-71. Holland then pushed the Norse cushion to 77-71 with a driving layup at the 3:47 mark, but Kameron Hankerson responded by knocking down a 3-pointer to cut the NKU lead to 77-74.

Once again it was Sharpe who brought the BB&T Arena crowd to its feet, sinking another 3-pointer to extend the lead to 80-74. Following a free throw by Green Bay, Sharpe did it again, draining a 3-pointer to give NKU an 83-75 advantage with 1:48 left on the clock.

“To see it go in a couple of times in a row feels really good,” said Sharpe, who led NKU with 19 points.

Holland finished with 17 points and five rebounds as NKU won its fifth consecutive game. McDonald collected his 13th double-double of the season with 12 points and 15 rebounds. The 6-foot-7 junior forward also dished out three assists.

Garnett finished with 10 points, six assists and four rebounds, while Jalen Tate chipped in seven points and three rebounds.

“I thought everyone stepped up and gave us something tonight,” Brannen said, noting a key offensive rebound by Dantez Walton and Faulkner’s first-half performance. “Jordan Garnett was all over the place defensively, and Lavone took over late in the game. Just a really good performance against a very physical team.”

Khalil Small scored 20 points for Green Bay, which dropped to 10-18 overall, 5-10 in the Horizon League. The Phoenix shot just 35.7 percent from the field but were 13-for-29 from 3-point range. Cohen added 18 points for Green Bay, while Parham finished with 16 points.

Carson Williams scored seven points and grabbed seven rebounds for NKU, which won the battle of the boards by a 43-31 margin. The Norse shot 48.3 percent from the field and were 9-for-25 from 3-point range.

Faulkner added eight points as NKU evened up the all-time series against Green Bay at three wins apiece. The Norse have won the past three meetings against the Phoenix.

Dating back to last season, NKU has won 27 of its past 35 games (.771) against Horizon League opponents. That includes the Norse’s three victories during the Horizon League Tournament last year.

NKU plays Wright State at 9 p.m. Friday in Dayton, Ohio. In the first meeting at Highland Heights on Jan. 11, Wright State posted an 84-81 victory against NKU.

NKU/GREEN BAY PHOTO GALLERY

HORIZON LEAGUE STANDINGS

Contact Don Owen at don@nkytrib.com and follow him on Twitter at @dontribunesport

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One Comment

  1. My wife and i went to this game. It was amazing. First NKU game we have ever been too. I went there for school but never got to go to any games.

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