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March Madness arrives at NKU! Norse capture Horizon League championship, earn NCAA berth

NKU players and coaches celebrate their Horizon League Tournament championship on Tuesday night. NKU defeated Wright State, 77-66, in the finale at Detroit. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

NKyTribune staff

DETROIT — As is usually the case this time in March, sadness and madness were on full display in the moments following the Horizon League Tournament championship game on Tuesday night.

For Northern Kentucky University, which had just claimed the title with a 77-66 victory over Wright State, there was madness galore on the Little Caesars Arena court. The Norse (26-8) buried 12 shots from 3-point range and earned the Horizon League’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.

The moment brought sadness for Wright State, which shared the Horizon League regular-season title with NKU and earned the tournament’s No. 1 seed. The Raiders captured last season’s “Motor City Madness” event, but they were forced to surrender their crown to their archrivals from the south.

MVP Drew McDonald acknowledges NKU fans after the Norse captured the Horizon League Tournament championship. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

Jalen Tate finished with 17 points, five rebounds and four assists for NKU, which won the Horizon League Tournament for the second time in three years. The Norse built an 18-point lead 14 minutes into the game, blistering the nets by hitting seven of their first nine 3-point attempts.

“Just getting off to that rhythm starting the first half was a great feeling,” Tate said. “Just knowing that we could get stops and it obviously translates to offense. Shots were going in.”

Tate and Zaynah Robinson combined for 23 points in the first half for NKU, which settled for a 44-34 advantage at the break. Robinson came off the bench and drained a trio of 3-pointers to spark the Norse, who shot 59.3 percent from the field before halftime. Robinson finished with 15 points, 11 of those in the first half.

Dantez Walton added 15 points and a game-high 14 rebounds as NKU defeated Wright State for the second time this season. The Norse and Wright State split during the regular season, with the home team winning each time.

Drew McDonald — who hit the winning 3-pointer against Oakland in the semifinals on Monday night — chipped in 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists in the title game. McDonald, a Cold Spring native, was also named the tournament’s most valuable player.

“I think you guys can see just how much fun we have, and how much we enjoy playing basketball together,” said McDonald, who was also named the Horizon League’s Player of the Year last week.

McDonald was joined on the All-Tournament team by teammates Tate and Tyler Sharpe, Bill Wampler from Wright State and Jaevin Cumberland from Oakland.

NKU is now 12-24 all-time against Wright State. Since the start of the 2016-17 season, the Norse are 46-15 against Horizon League competition.

Wampler scored 16 points to lead Wright State, which dropped to 21-13. Despite the loss, the Raiders earned an NIT berth by finishing as the Horizon League’s top seed.

NKU will learn its NCAA Tournament opponent and location on Sunday. The Norse played the University of Kentucky in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. A year ago, NKU played Louisville in the NIT.

Several bracketology sites have NKU projected as either a 14 or 15 seed, pending the outcomes in other conference tournaments around the nation.

NKU players and cheerleaders pose for photos following the Norse’s 77-66 win over Wright State in the Horizon League Tournament championship game. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

(Information compiled from the Horizon League and staff reports)

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