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NKU basketball notebook: Norse conditioned to win as Walton joins exclusive club in Horizon League

By Don Owen
NKyTribune reporter

They lost all-time leading scorer and rebounder Drew McDonald to graduation. They watched Jalen Tate — arguably the Horizon League’s most versatile player — go down with a broken hand just three games into the season.

Yet, the Norse of Northern Kentucky are 7-3 after posting a 76-57 win over Eastern Kentucky on Sunday night. NKU is also just two plays away (narrow losses against Arkansas and Texas Southern) from being 9-1 in Darrin Horn’s first season as head coach of the Norse.

There are several reasons for the continued success, but the emergence of Dantez Walton — who has been named Horizon League Player of the Week three consecutive times — is a major factor.

NKU head coach Darrin Horn (left) talks with Dantez Walton during a timeout. Walton has been named Horizon League Player of the Week three straight times — a feat that had not been accomplished in 30 years. (Photo By Jeff McCurry)

Horn said conditioning is key to Walton’s outstanding performance during the first 10 games.

“I think [conditioning is] the No. 1 reason Dantez Walton is playing at the level he is — he didn’t magically become a guy who’s making all the plays he’s making,” Horn said. “I think he’s gotten in unbelievable shape. His conditioning has allowed him to play with a greater level of confidence to do those things.

“He’s just one example. Tyler Sharpe played 40 minutes (Sunday) against a team that presses. I didn’t think at any point he looked tired and made me think he needed a blow.”

Walton averages a team-leading 18.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He is shooting 52.7 percent from the field and has buried 27 of 66 attempts from 3-point range. Walton also leads NKU with eight blocks.

KNIGHT MOVES: How long had it been since a Horizon League standout won the player of the week award three straight times? Prior to Walton accomplishing the feat on Monday, Dayton’s Negele Knight was the last Horizon League performer to win three consecutive player of the week honors during the 1989-90 campaign. Knight later played six seasons in the NBA.

VERSATILE SOPH: Sophomore guard Trevon Faulkner averages 12.6 points per game and leads NKU in free throws made (35) and attempts (43). His 81.4 percent shooting from the line ranks No. 4 in the Horizon League.

Faulkner scored 18 points in the win against Eastern Kentucky and hurt the Colonels with his ability to get to the basket. “Trevon was really good,” Horn said. “We like to get him in the elbow or block area because he’s really effective down there.

“There are times he settles for jump shots or faded away. But the last bucket he had, when he got the and-one, is a great example.”

NKU’s Trevon Faulkner drives through the Eastern Kentucky defense for a basket in the first half. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

HARRIS INJURY UPDATE: NKU’s Karl Harris missed his second straight game with a minor hip ailment. Harris is averaging 9.8 points per contest and is shooting 47.4 percent from 3-point range.

“Karl has a nagging high hip, glute, kind of strain or something,” Horn said. “We didn’t want to rush him back.”

IN THE POST: NKU starting center Silas Adheke played just eight minutes against Eastern Kentucky. Sophomore post player Adrian Nelson stepped in and provided NKU with 10 points and four rebounds in 21 minutes of action inside.

“Adrian is giving us more right now,” Horn said. “He’s a more active, live body. Silas has made progress and gotten better, but there are times that he needs to be more active. He needs to be more assertive defensively. He needs to create more of a presence on both ends of the floor and around the rim.

“To Adrian’s credit, he’s coming out and he’s doing that. He finished a few in the second half.”

COMPLICATIONS WITH SCHEDULING: Horn said he enjoys playing the in-state schools such as Eastern Kentucky. “I think this is a good game, for sure,” he said, noting NKU and Eastern Kentucky have one year remaining on the contract.

When asked about the possibility of playing other in-state schools such as Western Kentucky, Horn pointed out that scheduling isn’t as easy as fans and media believe. He also admitted that he’s heard the comments made about playing UC Clermont and Midway (Ky.) this season.

“There’s been complaints about some of the games we played, and I would love to not play those [teams] at some point in the future, too,” said Horn, who noted NKU isn’t in position to pay large guarantees for home games. “There are some different challenges, like that, structurally with our schedule that we have to work through. We’ve upgraded it quite a bit this year.

“We have Illinois State out of the Missouri Valley Conference coming in here Sunday. We go to UNC Greensboro. which went to Georgetown (D.C.) and won already this year. I’m open to all things, especially with in-state schools. But there’s a lot that goes into scheduling.”

A year ago, then-head coach John Brannen said Morehead State decided against renewing the series with NKU after losing three consecutive times to the Norse. Prior to that, NKU and Morehead State had played for six straight seasons.

NKU has never played either Murray State or Western Kentucky.

NKU is 7-3 after posting a 76-57 win over Eastern Kentucky on Sunday night. The Norse are also just two plays away (narrow losses against Arkansas and Texas Southern) from being 9-1 in Darrin Horn’s first season as head coach. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

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