A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

NKU notebook: Sharpe emerges as force in Norse backcourt, both as shooter and defender

By Don Owen
NKyTribune reporter

Tyler Sharpe wasn’t necessarily overlooked while scoring more than 1,600 career points at Bullitt East High School. But his talents were certainly undervalued by many Division I college recruiters.

After all, Sharpe was named 6th Region Player of the Year as a senior and was a finalist for Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball honor. He also earned all-state honors from the Associated Press and was a member of the 2016 Kentucky All-Star Team that competed against the top players from Indiana.

NKU’s Tyler Sharpe reacts to the crowd after hitting a 3-pointer during the second half Saturday night. Sharpe finished with 19 points. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Despite all those accomplishments, Sharpe’s scholarship offers were mostly from smaller schools. So a year ago, he spent his freshman season as a walk-on guard at the University of Louisville and saw a grand total of 11 minutes of action in seven games.

He transferred to Northern Kentucky University during the summer and was offered a spot on the roster. And the 6-foot-1 Sharpe has made everyone take notice with his work ethic during practice, his toughness on defense and his ability to turn games around with his outside shooting.

Sharpe’s latest momentum-changing performance helped NKU turn back Green Bay on Saturday Night by an 86-80 score at BB&T Arena. The southpaw sharpshooter buried five 3-pointers and finished with 19 points, and he knocked down a trio of treys in the final four minutes to seal the Norse victory in front of a noisy homecoming crowd of 6,455.

Playing without a scholarship at the moment, Sharpe said his focus is on helping NKU win games.

“I really don’t think about that,” he said after Saturday’s victory. “I just come out and take the opportunity I’m getting right now to compete with these guys. Obviously, a scholarship would be exciting to anyone, but I really don’t think about it. I just come out and play.”

Sharpe is averaging 6.6 points per game and has made 41 shots from 3-point range in 89 attempts (.461). But his defensive efforts have also earned him increased playing time, and his late-game stop against Milwaukee last Thursday night helped NKU pull out a 54-52 victory.

During NKU’s two wins last week, Sharpe averaged 15.5 points per game and drained eight 3-pointers. His 19 points against Green Bay also equaled his career-best scoring output, set earlier in the season at Milwaukee. Sharpe has also scored in double figures the past five games — all NKU wins.

NKU is 19-7 overall and in sole possession of first place in the Horizon League with a 12-2 record. The Norse play at Wright State (11-3, second place in the Horizon League) Friday at 9 p.m.

NKU head coach John Brannen shouts instructions during the second half of the Norse’s 86-80 win against Green Bay on Saturday. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

TOUGH DEFENSE: Green Bay backcourt standouts Khalil Small and Sandy Cohen III combined for 38 points Saturday, but NKU limited that duo to 11-for-28 shooting (39.4 percent) from the field. Small, in fact, scored nine of his 20 points at the free-throw line and was just 5-for-14 from the field against a legion of NKU defenders.

“This is the first year I’ve worried less about matchups because we have dynamic defenders who can individually guard multiple people,” NKU head coach John Brannen said, mentioning Jalen Tate, Jordan Garnett, Sharpe, Mason Faulkner and even big man Carson Williams among those who helped contain the Green Bay backcourt scorers.

“When you have that, you have a chance to be a good defensive team. If you can guard the ball, you can build your defense from there. In years past, we haven’t had that so we’ve had to scheme, and we’ve had to match up. Now, we’re not as concerned about the matchups.”

BIG PICTURE: Several teams from NKU’s non-conference schedule have been blistering hot in recent weeks. East Tennessee State — which NKU split two games against this season — has won 16 in a row, is 22-4 overall and unbeaten (13-0) in the Southern Conference. Of the Buccaneers’ four losses, three are against NKU, Xavier and Kentucky.

Vermont, which posted a last-second win against NKU in November, is currently 21-5 and riding a 14-game winning streak. The Catamounts are 11-0 in the America East Conference.

SEEING DOUBLE-DOUBLE: NKU junior forward Drew McDonald notched his 13th double-double of the season with a 15-rebound, 12-point effort against Green Bay. The Newport Central Catholic graduate now has 29 double-doubles in his career and 11 in the past 16 games.

RADIO SHOW TONIGHT: An additional NKU Basketball Coaches Show, hosted by Dickmann’s Sports Café, has been added to the remaining schedule for Monday (Feb. 12) from 7-8 p.m. The show will air live on ESPN 1530.

The show features NKU men’s basketball head coach John Brannen and women’s basketball head coach Camryn Whitaker. Dickmann’s will have drink specials available during the broadcast. Located on Orphanage Road in Ft. Wright, which is accessible off of Exit 80 on I-275, Dickmann’s Sports Café features more than 50 televisions to go along with a full-service bar and food.

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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