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NKU collects 800th all-time win during 102-38 romp over Wilmington in season opener

By Don Owen
NKyTribune reporter

In terms of postseason ramifications, it meant absolutely nothing. But Northern Kentucky University’s 102-38 romp over Wilmington (Ohio) on Tuesday night carried a great deal of historical significance.

It marked the 800th all-time victory for the Norse men’s basketball program, which began on Nov. 12, 1971, with a 109-65 triumph over Calvary (Ky.) College inside old Newport High School’s gymnasium.

NKU’s Silas Adheke attempts a shot during the first half against Wilmington on Tuesday. Adheke finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Unlike that debut win nearly 47 years ago, NKU’s latest milestone victory occurred on its home floor — BB&T Arena — and a crowd of 2,454 watched the Norse coast to a season-opening triumph against the outmanned Quakers. NKU scored the first 11 points of the game, built a 48-16 halftime lead and cruised to its 800th all-time victory.

“I grew up going to Kenny Shields’ basketball camps, and Mike Beitzel’s basketball camps,” NKU head coach John Brannen said of the program’s milestone win. “The players who put on this uniform, I looked up to them when I was coming up. The players who put on this uniform, I competed against growing up.

“To be probably the smallest part of 800 wins is a tremendous honor and just good timing. This is for all the guys before that put it together and put us in position to have BB&T Arena and compete for championships.”

Sophomore guard Jalen Tate netted a game-high 17 points to lead NKU, which shot 58.5 percent from the field. Tate also grabbed eight rebounds and spearheaded a Norse defense that held Wilmington to just 22.4 percent shooting from the field.

“We actually like to view ourselves as a pressing team,” Tate said of the tenacious full-court pressure that NKU applied in the opening minutes while building an 11-0 lead. “The press is something we spend a good amount of time working on. It’s one of those things we emphasize, whether forcing turnovers or just forcing them deep into the shot clock.”

Tate, who was 7-for-10 from the field, added two steals and a pair of assists.

“When Jalen Tate brings a focus level and energy level, he’s as good as any guard in the league,” Brannen said. “I expect him to bring that on a daily basis, and so do his teammates. And so does Jalen.”

Four other NKU players netted double figures, with Drew McDonald scoring 14 points, while Dantez Walton, Silas Adheke and Adrian Nelson each added 10 points. Adheke, the 6-foot-10 junior college transfer, also grabbed 14 rebounds as the Norse owned a whopping 58-24 advantage on the boards.

NKU’s Dantez Walton drives in for a basket against Wilmington. Walton scored 10 points in the Norse victory. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

“Silas played very well with 14 rebounds, played hard defensively, and did a good job rotating defensively and was active,” Brannen said. “He brings a defensive presence and an evolving offensive game. It was good to get these guys some quality minutes.”

McDonald grabbed nine boards and moved into fourth place on NKU’s all-time career rebounding list, passing Todd Svoboda (770) with 771 rebounds. The Newport Central Catholic graduate also dished out three assists and blocked two shots in just 13 minutes of action.

Will Patrick led Wilmington (0-1) with eight points. The Quakers, who compete at the NCAA Division III level, committed 26 turnovers and were 5-for-24 from 3-point range.

NKU is now 9-1 all-time against Wilmington.

NKU’s next opponent figures to be much more challenging, as the Norse hit the road to face Northern Illinois on Friday night in DeKalb, Ill. The Huskies return all five starters from last season, including junior guard Eugene German (20.6 points per game) and senior forward Levi Bradley (14.6 ppg).

German, however, was suspended last week and did not play in the Huskies’ season-opening win against Rockford on Tuesday. German, Zaire Mateen and Dante Thorpe were all charged with retail theft on Oct. 24. Their status for the NKU game on Friday is unknown.

Northern Illinois, which finished 13-19 last season, plays in the Mid-American Conference. The Huskies were 6-12 in the MAC in 2017-18.

“It’s a tremendous challenge on Friday, it’s a team with a lot coming back,” Brannen said of Northern Illinois. “They play in a really good league and have high expectations for this season.”

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