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McDonald sets NKU career rebounding record, but Eastern Kentucky pulls out last-second 76-74 win

By Don Owen
NKyTribune reporter

RICHMOND, Ky. — Drew McDonald is the new chairman of the boards at Northern Kentucky University, but the Norse’s all-time rebounding champion couldn’t prevent a buzzer-beating defeat on Saturday night.

Nick Mayo hit a 12-foot baseline jumper with 0.4 seconds remaining to give Eastern Kentucky a 76-74 win over NKU in McBrayer Arena. The Colonels (6-4) survived a frigid first-half shooting performance and rallied behind Mayo, who scored 27 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

EKU’s Nick Mayo (right) releases the winning shot in the final seconds against the tight defense of NKU’s Drew McDonald. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

“I knew he was going to get the ball and I wanted to guard him,” said McDonald, who closely defended Mayo on the final shot. “I felt like being a senior I wanted to take it into my hands. I felt like it was good defense, but he’s a good player and made a great shot. I didn’t want to foul him, but I contested it pretty hard and he still hit it.”

McDonald scored 23 points and hauled in six rebounds — including an offensive board early in the first half that allowed him to pass LaRon Moore as NKU’s all-time career leader with 860 caroms. The Norse, however, were uncharacteristically cold from the field (35.7 percent, including 2-for-13 from 3-point range) during the opening 20 minutes and were unable to take advantage of Eastern Kentucky’s first-half shooting.

Eastern Kentucky, in fact, managed just 30.6 percent shooting from the field in the first half and was 0-for-12 from 3-point range at intermission. But the Colonels — who missed their first 13 attempts from 3-point range — found themselves in a 29-all tie at the break.

Eastern Kentucky then drilled five of their first seven 3-pointers to begin the second half. With NKU holding a 37-31 lead, Jomaru Brown ignited Eastern Kentucky by draining a trio of 3-pointers that sparked a 16-5 run and gave the Colonels a 47-42 advantage.

“They scored 47 points in the second half, so we didn’t play very good defense,” NKU head coach John Brannen said. “We can’t give up 47 points in the second half. It wasn’t the final play. It was all the fouling, free throws and plays that took prior to that. Drew played great defense on the final shot, but we shouldn’t have been in that position.”

NKU eventually built a 63-59 lead, but Eastern Kentucky countered with a 9-0 run to take a 68-63 advantage. Tyler Sharpe buried a 3-pointer to cut the Colonels lead to 68-66, and NKU later tied the game at 70-all when Zaynah Robinson converted a short jumper.

McDonald gave NKU a 74-72 lead with 58 seconds remaining when he powered up a layup after grabbing an offensive rebound. Mayo tied the contest at 74-all by making a pair of free throws with 46 ticks left, setting the stage for his last-second heroics.

Sharpe finished with 18 points for NKU, which shot 42.4 percent from the field and was 8-for-30 from 3-point range. Robinson added 14 points and four rebounds, while Chris Vogt hauled in a career-high 12 rebounds and scored six points.

Drew McDonald grabs an offensive board early in the first half that allowed him to pass LaRon Moore as NKU’s all-time career leader with 860 rebounds. He also finished with 23 points. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

NKU played without sophomore guard Jalen Tate, still battling the effects of an injured groin. Tate averages 11.6 points and 3.5 assists per game, and he is also the Norse’s top defensive player.

“Jalen is out indefinitely, and I’m not sure when he will be back,” Brannen said of his star defensive player. “Guys have to step up, and I thought Zaynah Robinson was really good tonight. He’s been very consistent lately. But this team needs to get in the gym and practice. We’ve had too many games. We need to get in the gym and practice.”

NKU — which dropped a 78-65 decision at Cincinnati on Tuesday night — is now 8-3. But the Norse can look now forward to four consecutive home games, starting with a Dec. 16 contest against Miami (Ohio) at BB&T Arena, as a way to tweak some of the areas that need improvement.

McDonald, the former Newport Central Catholic standout who also dished out five assists on Saturday night, said the NKU rebounding record is a reflection of lessons learned from his mom and dad. “My parents always told me from an early age that if you don’t impact the game with scoring, you find other ways that do it, and I’ve always taken pride in my rebounding,” he said. “That’s one way you win basketball games. Typically, if you look at the rebounding stats, that’s who wins the game many times.”

NKU’s Dantez Walton scored seven points and grabbed nine rebounds before fouling out. Bryant Mocaby added six points and a steal.

Brown finished with 16 points for Eastern Kentucky, which owns a 6-3 lead in the all-time series with NKU. The Colonels shot 50 percent from the field in the second half and converted 18 of their 22 charity attempts after the break.

NKU takes this week off for exams before meeting Miami (Ohio) at 7 p.m. on Dec. 16.

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

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