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NKU clinches third straight 20-win season with 79-64 triumph over Oakland in front of 6,792 fans

By Don Owen
NKyTribune reporter

Drew McDonald is already Northern Kentucky University’s career leader in rebounds. He’s also in position to become the Norse’s all-time scoring king by the end of this season.

But going into Saturday, McDonald had never walked out of BB&T Arena with a victory over Oakland. In the previous three years, NKU had lost each time Oakland visited Highland Heights. Simply put, Saturday night was McDonald’s final opportunity to notch a home triumph against the Golden Grizzlies.

NKU’s Drew McDonald scores against Oakland defender Braden Norris (1) on Saturday night. McDonald finished with 21 points. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

The Cold Spring native can now cross that off his bucket list after NKU posted a 79-64 win over Oakland in front of 6,792 fans — the largest regular-season home crowd in Norse history. McDonald scored 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds as the Norse clinched their third consecutive 20-win season and maintained a one-game lead over Wright State atop the Horizon League standings.

“I’ve been here since we joined this league, and I remembered they had beaten us here three straight years,” McDonald said. “We talked about it a little before the game, and (head coach John Brannen) made mention of it. It was just a little extra motivation.”

Jalen Tate added 19 points and six assists for NKU, which improved to 20-6 overall, 10-3 in the Horizon League. The Norse finished with a 30-6 advantage in fast-break points and extended their home winning streak to 19 games.

NKU is 15-0 at BB&T Arena this season. The Norse haven’t lost at home since suffering an 83-70 setback against Oakland on Jan. 26, 2018. Prior to Saturday, the largest regular-season crowd to watch an NKU home game occurred on March 2, 2013, when 6,719 fans were in attendance to see the Norse defeat Jacksonville.

Oakland took advantage of 12 NKU turnovers in the first half to build a 36-32 lead at the break. The Norse responded with a 14-4 spurt to begin the second half, capped by a Trevon Faulkner steal and basket that gave NKU a 46-40 advantage.

“We definitely came out a little sloppy with the ball (in the first half) and made some uncharacteristic mistakes,” Tate said. “We were trying to make too much happen at once. In the second half, we refocused, let the game come to us and actually it all starts with defense.”

NKU’s defense, in fact, held Oakland to just 37.5 percent shooting from the field in the second half and didn’t allow a 3-pointer during the final 20 minutes. The Norse also forced the Golden Grizzlies into nine turnovers in the second half.

“Oakland controlled tempo in the first half and completely dictated the way the game was played,” Brannen said, noting the 12 turnovers and nine offensive rebounds Oakland collected before intermission. “In the second half, we came out and picked up full-court pressure, started getting in transition and the game flipped more toward our style of play. We only turned the ball over twice (in the second half) and gave up one offensive rebound.”

NKU’s Jalen Tate drives in for a basket against Oakland’s Brad Brechting in the first half. Tate scored 19 points as NKU posted a 79-64 win. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Brad Brechting and Jaevin Cumberland each scored 16 points for Oakland, which dropped to 11-15 overall, 7-6 in the Horizon League. NKU held Xavier Hill-Mais, Oakland’s leading scorer at 19.4 points per contest, to just six points on 1-for-6 shooting from the field.

Dantez Walton finished with 15 points and seven rebounds for NKU, while Tyler Sharpe added 11 points and three assists. Zaynah Robinson came off the bench and chipped in seven points and five rebounds.

McDonald now has 12 double-doubles this season and 46 in his career. The former Newport Central Catholic standout has not gone more than three games without a double-double since Dec. 10, 2017. McDonald currently ranks fourth in Norse history with 1,926 career points.

He also has a victory against Oakland at BB&T Arena — and in front of the largest crowd to ever watch an NKU home game.

“I thought we played hard in the first half, but shots weren’t falling and we made some mistakes,” McDonald said. “We locked back in after halftime and refocused. We tried to do too much on offense at times in the first half. We just got back to who were are as a team and the shots started falling.”

Said Brannen of the BB&T Arena homecoming crowd: “What an environment, and I want to thank our fans for coming out in droves. [Nearly] 6,800 people, and most of them were out there cheering pretty loud. It’s a huge part of the game for us to come out and play in front of a crowd like that, and I thought they certainly helped us out in the second half.”

Next up for NKU is a first-place showdown at Wright State on Friday night at 9 p.m. The Norse can virtually wrap up the Horizon League regular-season title with a victory over the Raiders.

NKU defeated Wright State earlier this season, 68-64, at BB&T Arena.

NKU’s Jalen Tate (left) and Trevon Faulkner (right) apply defensive pressure on Oakland’s Jaevin Cumberland (center) in the second half Saturday night. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

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