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Injury-plagued NKU begins Horizon League play Saturday against visiting Milwaukee at BB&T Arena

By Don Owen
NKyTribune reporter

Even when it was at full strength, Northern Kentucky expected to face a major test in its Horizon League opener against talented Milwaukee.

Now it’s a question of whether the injury-riddled Norse can pull out a victory against the visiting Panthers.

Down two of its top players, NKU finds itself in an unfavorable position for Saturday’s 1 p.m. clash against Milwaukee at BB&T Arena. The Norse (8-4 overall) are without leading scorer Dantez Walton (18.4 points per game) and standout guard Jalen Tate (8.3 ppg).

Tyler Sharpe currently ranks 36th in Norse history with 904 career points. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Walton — who earned Horizon League Player of the Week three consecutive times this season — is out indefinitely with a chest injury. Tate, one of the top all-around performers in the Horizon League, has missed the past nine games with a broken hand.

Tate has started rehabbing the hand, but NKU has offered no timetable for his return.

In the absence of Walton and Tate, NKU needs another player to emerge as a scoring threat to complement Tyler Sharpe. The senior guard has poured in 63 points the past two games, including a career-high 33 during a 67-50 loss at UNC Greensboro on Dec. 21.

In the loss at UNC Greensboro, NKU managed a total of 14 field goals. Sharpe, who averages 15.9 points per game, was responsible for 10 of those makes. UNC Greensboro also employed an aggressive full-court press to wear down the depleted Norse in that game.

Sharpe currently ranks 36th in Norse history with 904 career points. He is also 72nd nationally in steals this season with 23.

NKU’s Trevon Faulkner averages 11.8 points per contest and has made 80.4 percent of his free throws. Karl Harris is scoring at a 7.9 ppg clip for the Norse, while Bryson Langdon averages 7.4 ppg.

NKU is holding foes to 65.3 points per game and ranks 14th nationally in 3-point shooting defense, limiting opponents to just 26.7 percent. The Norse’s 8.8 steals per game ranks 38th nationally.

Darius Roy averages 16.8 points per game to lead Milwaukee. (UWM photo)

Milwaukee is 5-7 overall, but the Panthers have lost five consecutive games since a 5-2 start to the season. The Panthers feature three players scoring in double digits, led by guard Darius Roy’s 16.8 ppg. Te’Jon Lucas is scoring 13.8 ppg, while teammate Josh Thomas averages 11.5 ppg.

The Panthers also utilize a deep bench, with 10 players averaging at least 10 minutes per game. Milwaukee dropped an 83-64 decision at Wisconsin last week. Roy poured in 25 points against the Badgers and Lucas scored 10.

Lucas is a transfer from Illinois, while 6-foot-10 center Harrison Henderson (3.7 ppg) played two seasons at USC before transferring to Milwaukee.

The Panthers are 1-5 away from home this season, including 0-3 in road games.

NKU has defeated Milwaukee six consecutive times, including twice last season. The Norse own a 7-3 lead in the all-time series.

After playing Milwaukee, NKU continues the homestand Monday night as Green Bay visits BB&T Arena at 7 p.m.

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

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