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Harsh lesson from last March learned, NKU begins road trip Thursday night at Cleveland State

By Don Owen
NKyTribune reporter

A harsh lesson delivered last March should prevent Northern Kentucky University from overlooking Cleveland State on the road this Thursday night — even if the Vikings are winless (0-6) in Horizon League play.

The lesson learned by NKU? Try Cleveland State’s shocking upset over the top-seeded Norse at Motor City Madness, a setback that denied NKU a shot at earning the automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Jalen Tate (right) attempts to block Wright State’s Malachi Smith during NKU’s 68-64 win last Friday. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

The Norse had swept the Vikings during the regular season and were prohibitive favorites in the postseason meeting. Cleveland State, though, shook off being the No. 8 seed and stunned NKU, 89-80, in that Motor City Madness quarterfinal game in Detroit.

That makes Thursday’s contest in Cleveland an interesting matchup between two teams heading in opposite directions. NKU enters the game with a 14-4 overall record, 4-1 in the Horizon League — a half game behind first-place Detroit Mercy. Cleveland State is 5-14 overall, and the last-place Vikings have lost six straight games.

Sound familiar?

Cleveland State features sophomore guard Tyree Appleby, who averages 17.8 points per game. Appleby has also buried 46 shots from 3-point range this season and dishes out 5.1 assists per game. He also orchestrated the upset over NKU last March by scoring 24 points and grabbing seven rebounds.

Another returning NKU nemesis is Stefan Kenic, who netted 14 of his 17 points in the second half for Cleveland State last March. Kenic’s outside shooting ignited a Vikings offense that produced 61 points during the final 20 minutes in that upset of the Norse.

Cleveland State is 5-5 at home this season, but the Vikings are 0-9 on the road. The Vikings are seventh in the Horizon League in both points scored (74.3 ppg) and points allowed (77.5 ppg). Cleveland State is fifth in the Horizon League in both 3-pointers made per game (9.4) and 3-point shooting percentage (.357).

Cleveland State’s Tyree Appleby scores against NKU during Motor City Madness last March in Detroit.

NKU is coming off a 68-64 win over Wright State. Drew McDonald and Jalen Tate combined for 41 points in that victory at BB&T Arena. McDonald finished with 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead NKU, while Tate added 19 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Tyler Sharpe finished with 14 points and three assists for the Norse.

McDonald averages 18.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, while Sharpe is scoring 13.9 points per contest. Sharpe has also connected on a team-leading 45 treys this season. Tate is averaging 13.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game.

NKU is 34-11 against Horizon League competition since the start of the 2016-17 campaign. The Norse own a 60-25 overall record during that same stretch, including Horizon League regular-season (2018) and tournament (2017) championships.

NKU will conclude the two-game Horizon League road trip Saturday with a 1 p.m. contest at Youngstown State.

Thursday, Jan. 17
Wolstein Center (13,610), Cleveland, Ohio

NKU (14-4, 4-1 HL) at Cleveland State (5-14, 0-6 HL), 7 p.m.
NKU Radio: ESPN 1530 (1530 AM)
Series Record: NKU leads, 4-3
Last Meeting: CSU 89, NKU 80 (March 3, 2018)

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