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Disney World aside, McDonald earns MVP honors as unbeaten NKU defeats Coastal Carolina, 89-83

By Don Owen
NKyTribune reporter

Super Bowl MVPs always say they’re going to Disney World, so it only makes sense that Drew McDonald will be in Orlando next weekend after his performance on Sunday.

Just don’t expect the Northern Kentucky University double-double machine to play along with the Disney routine in the postgame press conference without prior notice.

Drew McDonald netted 31 points and led NKU to an 89-83 win over Coastal Carolina in the final game of the KEMI Northern Kentucky Basketball Classic. The NewCath graduate was also named tournament MVP. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

McDonald netted 31 points and led NKU to an 89-83 win over Coastal Carolina in the final game of the KEMI Northern Kentucky Basketball Classic at BB&T Arena. He also grabbed 12 rebounds as the unbeaten Norse (6-0) used a big second-half run to pull away from the Chanticleers and finish 3-0 in the three-day event.

The MVP award of the three-day tournament went to McDonald, who is probably a bit too young to recall the origin of the “I’m going to Disney World” theme. But the former Newport Central Catholic standout is indeed going to be in Orlando next weekend — to meet the University of Central Florida and 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall on Saturday.

McDonald shot 17 free throws Sunday night and converted 14. He also finished 8-for-12 from the field, added three assists and rejected the Disney World bait when asked what’s next during the postgame press conference.

“I didn’t know they had an all-tournament team or an MVP. It was the last thing on my mind,” McDonald said, noting his only concern was executing in the final minutes and pulling out the win.

Coastal Carolina (3-3) had no answer for the 6-foot-8 McDonald on the block, as NKU continued feeding him in the post or on the baseline. McDonald scored on a variety of shots, using both hands, and took control when the visitors made a late rally from a 14-point deficit.

After a Zac Cuthbertson basket cut the NKU lead to 76-72 with 4:18 remaining, McDonald answered with a power move to extend the Norse advantage to 78-72. Cuthbertson struck again with another basket, but Zaynah Robinson followed with a driving layup to push NKU’s lead to 80-74.

Cuthbertson turned the ball over on Coastal Carolina’s next possession, and McDonald ended any comeback hopes for the Chanticleers by taking a pass from Jalen Tate and finishing with another basket to make it an 82-74 cushion with less than two minutes remaining.

NKU iced the game by making five of six free throws in the final minute.

“Well-coached teams are tough to beat, and you have to go win the game,” NKU head coach John Brannen said of Coastal Carolina. “You’re not going to be given the game. You have to win it. And I thought we did that tonight.”

NKU used a 13-0 run midway through the second half to extend a 61-60 lead into a 74-60 advantage with 7:23 remaining. Chris Vogt brought the crowd of 2,718 to its feet with a resounding dunk off an assist from Robinson during the spurt, and Tyler Sharpe capped the run by burying a 3-pointer.

NKU’s Dantez Walton soars above two Coastal Carolina defenders in the first half. Walton scored 11 points and blocked three shots. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

“I’m extremely proud of our young men. We won a championship this weekend. That’s the way we phrased it,” Brannen said of the three-day event. “We were able to do that in large part with everyone contributing.

“I told the team in the locker room afterwards that this was the first of our first six games that everyone did their jobs. We didn’t have any slippage from guys coming into the game. Everybody did their jobs, off the bench and starting roles.”

Brannen also praised the team’s captains, McDonald, Tate and Dantez Walton, for “bringing the energy and focus this team needed to have when, to be quite honest, exhaustion was taking place. That’s why we couldn’t go with the full-court press in the third game. Those guys were the reason we came out ready to play today.”

Tate finished with 16 points, six rebounds and three assists to earn a spot on the all-tournament team. Walton added 11 points, five rebounds and three blocks against an athletic and experienced Coastal Carolina team.

Sharpe chipped in 15 points and four steals off the bench for NKU, which was 29-for-41 at the free-throw line. The Norse made 45.5 percent of their shots from the field and won the battle of the boards by a 30-29 count.

Cuthbertson led Coastal Carolina with 20 points and eight rebounds. The Chanticleers shot 52 percent from the field and were 22-for-26 at the charity stripe.

NKU is off to its best start since the 2011-12 campaign, when the Norse opened the season with 13 consecutive wins. That was also NKU’s final season of competition as an NCAA Division II member.

“It’s great to be 6-0, and that’s exactly what you want,” Tate said of the unbeaten start. “But we’ll be right back in the gym this week trying to get better from these three games. We have some big [games] coming up soon, and we’re looking forward to them.”

KEMI Northern Kentucky Basketball Classic
All-Tournament Team

(MVP) Drew McDonald – Northern Kentucky
Jalen Tate – Northern Kentucky
Warren Williams – Manhattan
Nehemiah Mack – Manhattan
Zac Cuthbertson – Coastal Carolina
DeVon Baker – UNC Asheville

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