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Don Owen: Freshman phenom Davis gets his points, but NKU secures crucial win over Detroit Mercy

The hype regarding the scoring exploits of Antoine Davis is legitimate, not that anyone needed further proof. The freshman phenom from Detroit Mercy tossed in 26 points against Northern Kentucky University on Thursday night and showed the BB&T Arena crowd of 3,025 why he is one of the nation’s leading scorers.

But Davis’ efforts weren’t enough. Not even close. In fact, it was probably the toughest 26 points he’s ever scored, and many of those came after the outcome had been decided.

NKU’s Jalen Tate finishes with a dunk against Detroit Mercy in the first half. Tate scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

NKU secured the most important number of the evening, that being 18. The Norse’s 97-65 victory extended their home winning streak to 18 games. NKU hasn’t lost a game at BB&T Arena in more than a year and is unbeaten (14-0) at home this season.

That kind of dominance at home is crucial for a team hoping to earn a national tournament berth in March. It’s all about wins. Individual numbers are very secondary in Highland Heights.

The free-wheeling Davis, meanwhile, continues to stuff the statistic sheet with eye-popping numbers for the rebuilding Titans. The 6-foot-1 guard scorched Wright State for 48 points earlier this season and entered Thursday averaging 27.1 points per contest. But Detroit Mercy is now trying to avoid a 20-loss season.

Points are nice. Victories are priceless. Ask any coach which of the two is more important. The answer will always be the same.

“He’s a big-time talent and I’m glad our fans got see someone like (Davis) in our gym,” NKU head coach John Brannen said. “He gets 26 points on 23 shots tonight. That’s why we won. If he gets 23 shots and 45 points, it’s a totally different story. We wanted to deny him the ball and make things hard on him. You just want to make it difficult for a great player. That was the game plan and our guys defended him extremely well.”

Drew McDonald scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds for NKU, which improved to 19-6 overall and snapped a two-game losing streak. The Norse also maintained their one-game lead over Wright State — which knocked off Oakland on Thursday night — in the Horizon League standings with a 9-3 record.

Detroit Mercy dropped to 9-15 overall, 6-6 in the Horizon League. While Davis continued to launch a ton of shots — many from beyond NBA 3-point distance — the Titans could not handle McDonald on Thursday night. The Cold Spring native netted 18 points in the first half as NKU built a 51-31 lead.

McDonald was 7-for-8 from the field with four 3-pointers before intermission. He also collected his 1,000th career rebound in the first half, making him just the sixth player in Horizon League history to grab 1,000 boards.

“I think this (win) came from our preparation this week,” McDonald said. “We had a really good week of practice and focused on improving us more than scouting either Detroit or Oakland.”

NKU’s Chris Vogt dunks while being defended by Detroit Mercy’s Jacob Holland. Vogt scored eight points and added nine rebounds. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Playing against Detroit Mercy’s 2-3 zone defense, NKU shot 56.1 percent from the field and finished with 33 assists on 37 made field goals. The 33 assists are the most for NKU since moving to NCAA Division I status in 2012-13. The Norse single-game record for assists is 36, set during a 124-58 win over Indiana-East on Dec. 19, 2007.

Paul Djoko dished out a career-high seven assists to lead NKU, while Tyler Sharpe added six assists. Djoko also maintained tight defensive pressure on Davis for much of the game.

“We knew (Davis) was one of the best scoring guards in the country, and our mission was to stay focused on him, make it difficult on him and make him pass the ball,” Djoko said.

Trevon Faulkner, who also played a key role in defending Davis, scored a career-high 12 points and added three assists. Jalen Tate and Bryant Mocaby each netted 11 points for the Norse, who were 12-for-27 from 3-point range. Mocaby drained a trio of 3-pointers in just six minutes of action.

In addition to his six assists, Sharpe scored 10 points and collected a pair of steals. His passing also helped slice up Detroit Mercy’s zone defense.

“We knew coming in that if we turned this into a perimeter game and shot a lot of 3-pointers against their zone, it wasn’t going to work out, so we tried to take advantage of the gaps that are created by moving the ball side-to-side,” Sharpe said. “I thought we did a good job of getting to the high post and letting our bigs and movers make plays. Getting 33 assists in a game is great.”

Detroit Mercy shot 42.4 percent from the field and was 6-for-23 from 3-point range. NKU dominated the backboards and finished with a 42-26 advantage in rebounds. Chris Vogt hauled in a game-high nine rebounds for the Norse and added eight points.

Next up for NKU? It’s the last visiting team to leave BB&T Arena with a victory, the Oakland Golden Grizzlies, on Saturday night for the annual homecoming game. NKU hasn’t lost at home since suffering an 83-70 setback against Oakland on Jan. 26, 2018.

That means there will be two important numbers for NKU on Saturday night — 19 and 20. If the Norse avenge their early-season loss at Oakland, not to mention last season’s defeat at BB&T Arena, they extend their home winning streak to 19.

But even more important than that number is 20, like in a third consecutive 20-win season. If NKU knocks off Oakland, the Norse will clinch another 20-win campaign and inch closer to a possible Horizon League regular-season title.

“You want to be playing your best basketball in March, [the season] is a process, and we kind of got away from that process last week,” McDonald said of NKU’s two recent losses at IUPUI and Illinois-Chicago. “Everyone — players, coaches, managers, trainers — has been locked-in this week, and I think that really helped in this game. I think playing like this tonight this gives us a lot of confidence moving forward.”

Adrian Nelson throws down a dunk in the second half against Detroit Mercy. Nelson finished with eight points and five rebounds as the Norse posted a 97-65 win at BB&T Arena. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

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One Comment

  1. Roger Auge II says:

    Interesting to see Davis, but NKU’s defense stifled him when it mattered. A good win for NKU, good progress for Chris Vogt proving the weight room and foul shot practice really work. As Horizon League tournament time nears, NKU’s preparation must be over the top, outstanding, better than ever, as IUPUI, Wright State and UIC will be trying to let the air out of the season. Go Norse.

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