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Scoring wiz Nunn pours in 33 points, leads Oakland to 83-70 victory at NKU on Friday night

By Don Owen
NKyTribune reporter

By simply waiting a year, Oakland went from being a very good basketball team to an offensive dynamo filled with unlimited potential.

Oakland unleashed some of that potential against Northern Kentucky University on Friday night, shooting 51.8 percent from the field and cruising to an 83-70 victory in front of a crowd of 5,362 at BB&T Arena. The Golden Grizzlies extended their winning streak to five and improved to 14-8 overall, 6-3 in the Horizon League.

Oakland’s Kendrick Nunn (1) blocks a shot attempt by NKU’s Jalen Tate in the first half. Nunn scored 33 points to lead Oakland. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

A year ago, Oakland posted a 25-9 record and advanced to the NIT’s second round. But the Golden Grizzlies were also patiently waiting for Illinois transfer Kendrick Nunn, who sat out last season and has emerged as the second-leading scorer in the nation at 26.4 points per game.

A three-year standout at Illinois and a member of the Illini’s 1,000-point club, Nunn is now scoring points in bunches for Oakland. He finished with 33 points against NKU and buried six shots from 3-point range.

“We came in early for the shootaround and I felt really good, so I knew I’d have some shots go down for me tonight,” Nunn said. “I started off hitting those shots, and it helped my team get the early lead.”

Nunn began the game as if he might set the BB&T Arena scoring record, draining three consecutive 3-pointers and adding a layup in the first five minutes as Oakland built a 14-7 lead. The 6-foot-3 guard scored 14 points before halftime as the Golden Grizzlies took a 36-32 lead into the locker room.

“Kendrick’s one of the best scorers in the country, and he’s averaging over 30 points in our league games, so it’s become kind of routine for him,” Oakland head coach Greg Kampe said. “He got us going there in the first half. I’ve had three NBA players in the last 10 years, and I think Kendrick is the most talented offensive player I’ve ever coached.”

And Nunn has plenty of veteran help, which could elevate the Golden Grizzlies to unprecedented heights this season. Senior forward Jalen Hayes netted 21 points Friday night, 16 of those in the second half. Senior guard Martez Walker added 11 points for Oakland, which led the entire game.

“You have to have more than one player, and we finally got Jalen going in the second half,” said Kampe, whose team was voted the preseason favorite to win the Horizon League. “I have three great scorers in Kendrick, Jalen and Martez. I don’t know what happened with Martez missing his free throws tonight, but if he hits them like he normally does, he’s up there with 15 points. We have a lot of options for points.”

NKU’s Lavone Holland II (30) prepares to shoot over Oakland defender James Beck (left) on Friday night. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

That offensive firepower was too much for NKU on Friday night despite the raucous crowd at BB&T Arena. The Norse made just 41.5 percent of their shots from the field, including 6-for-25 from 3-point range.

Kampe also noted Oakland changed up its defensive strategy from the first game with NKU on Jan. 5, when the Norse posted an 87-83 win over the Golden Grizzlies in Rochester, Mich.

“We took the film room to the floor tonight,” Kampe said. “We made a real adjustment on how we guarded Carson Williams tonight. He killed us the first game, but we changed up some things tonight and defended him differently, and the players did a great job on him tonight.”

Williams, the 6-foot-5 sophomore forward who scored 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds against Oakland in the first meeting, finished with just four points and three rebounds Friday night in 18 minutes of play. He did not attempt a shot during the first half, and NKU made just 35.3 percent from the field during the opening 20 minutes.

“I didn’t think offensively we could ever find a rhythm tonight,” NKU head coach John Brannen said. “We didn’t shoot the ball very well.”

NKU cut the Oakland lead to two points three times early in the second half, but the Norse were unable to pull even. Nunn and Hayes combined to score Oakland’s first 16 points of the second half as the visitors built a 52-42 cushion. A basket by Walker extended the Oakland advantage to 54-42 with 13:34 remaining, but NKU responded with a 15-7 run to cut the deficit to 61-57 with 6:16 left on the clock.

“Every time we got close, we had a turnover, a missed layup or missed three, and they took advantage,” Brannen said.

Once again it was Nunn who rescued Oakland, converting a pair of free throws and following those with a 3-pointer to push the lead back to nine. After a Dantez Walton basket, Walker buried a 3-pointer that extended the Oakland advantage to 69-59, and Hayes later hit a short jumper to make it 71-59 with 4:01 left.

NKU’s Dantez Walton scores a basket against Oakland during the second half. Walton finished with 13 points and five rebounds. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

“Hayes made big plays in the second half, and he’s been doing that his entire career,” Kampe said. “After NKU had made the big run, Kendrick did what he does best. He’s very difficult to defend and those were huge plays to stop their momentum.”

Drew McDonald scored 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead NKU, now 14-7 overall, 7-2 in the Horizon League. Mason Faulkner added 15 points for the Norse, who watched their three-game winning streak halted. Walton chipped in 13 points and five rebounds off the NKU bench, which outscored Oakland by a 32-3 margin.

The loss also knocked NKU out of a first-place tie with Wright State in the Horizon League standings. Wright State defeated Detroit Mercy, 87-55, on Friday night.

“They walked into our building and played like a preseason No. 1 team they were picked to be,” Brannen said of Oakland. “They came with focused energy, and Kendrick Nunn played like one of the best players in the country tonight.”

Nunn, who starred in the Illinois backcourt until a misdemeanor battery charge resulted in his dismissal from the program two years ago, finished 11-for-22 from the field with six rebounds, three assists and a block. Isaiah Brock pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds for Oakland and added eight points.

“Let’s call it what it is,” Brannen said. “They are really, really good.”

Oakland is now 10-9 all-time against NKU and is 3-0 in games at BB&T Arena. NKU, meanwhile, has won two of the three games at Oakland since joining the Horizon League in 2015.

“Our mentality on defense was the difference between tonight and the first time we played them,” Nunn said. “We had mental lapses and errors the first game, and tonight we owned up to that after seeing it on film. We played better defense and didn’t have those lapses tonight.”

NKU plays host to Detroit Mercy at 1 p.m. Sunday at BB&T Arena.



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