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Don Owen: NKU braces for furious Thursday night storm as Youngstown State invades BB&T Arena

A furious winter storm is scheduled to hit Northern Kentucky on Thursday night. It’s forcefully approaching from the Northeast Ohio region, and Highland Heights is bracing for its arrival at 7 p.m.

The warning sirens are no doubt being tested inside BB&T Arena in preparation for this storm. This front isn’t going to weaken, either. How winter-like will it be, you ask? The forecast even includes Penguins.

Yes, like in the Penguins from Youngstown State. And these aren’t the harmless little birds from several years ago. Youngstown State enters Thursday’s clash against NKU with an 11-7 overall record and has won six of its past eight games.

The Penguins are just a half game out of first place in the Horizon League standings (4-1). They can actually take sole possession of first place this weekend by sweeping both NKU and Wright State.

Former NKU player and assistant coach Ethan Faulkner is now a member of the Youngstown State coaching staff.

The eye of the storm is head coach Jerrod Calhoun, who has turned a one-time Horizon League cupcake into a definite contender. Youngstown State features a deep roster, filled with experience and athleticism.

The Penguins also have extra motivation on Thursday night.

Former NKU player and assistant coach Ethan Faulkner is now on Calhoun’s staff. Faulkner was a four-year starter at NKU and the starting point guard during the Norse’s inaugural season of NCAA Division I competition in 2012-13.

Faulkner was also part of the Norse coaching staff that was fired at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season. You think he’s a bit pumped for Thursday’s showdown at BB&T Arena?

Throw in the fact NKU has beaten Youngstown State five consecutive times, and it’s easy to understand why the Penguins will be extra-pumped for Thursday. And, as a bonus motivator: Calhoun is very good friends with former NKU player and assistant coach Kevin Schappell, who, like Faulkner, was also let go in 2015.

Calhoun and Schappell both served under head coach Bob Huggins while on the staff at West Virginia. Schappell later became the top assistant coach at NKU and played a major role in bringing West Virginia to Highland Heights for a regular-season game against the Norse in 2014. That still remains the only time a so-called Power 5 opponent has visited BB&T Arena for a regular-season contest.

That’s all in the past, though. But keep an eye on the very near future — and on the hoops Doppler radar — as a major storm is being tracked to BB&T Arena on Thursday night.

And while on the subject of NKU’s game against Youngstown State:

•Once nearly invincible at home, NKU has already lost twice (Texas Southern, Green Bay) at BB&T Arena this season. The banged-up Norse — still without leading scorer Dantez Walton and his 18.4 points per game — desperately need Thursday’s game to stay in the hunt for a Horizon League regular-season title.

NKU has won three consecutive games — all on the road — and is 12-6 overall, 4-2 in the Horizon League. The Norse trail league-leading Wright State by a game and Youngstown State by a half game.

NKU’s Tyler Sharpe, shown draining a 3-pointer against Youngstown State last season at BB&T Arena, has scored 991 points with the Norse. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

•NKU senior guard Tyler Sharpe enters Thursday night having scored 991 points in three seasons with the Norse. He also netted two points in limited time at Louisville as a freshman, giving him 993 career points as a collegiate player.

Sharpe averages 15.4 points per game and is coming off a 33-point performance in a 96-71 win at IUPUI on Sunday. It marked the fourth time this season the Bullitt East graduate has reached the 30-point plateau.

•Sophomore guard Darius Quisenberry is Youngstown State’s leading scorer at 15.3 points per game. Michael Akuchie (9.4 ppg) and Naz Bohannon (9.2 ppg) are also talented performers, with Bohannon leading the team in rebounding at 9.1 boards per contest.

Garrett Covington is scoring 7.4 ppg for Youngstown State, while Jelani Simmons (6.3 ppg), Donel Cathcart III (6.2 ppg) and Devin Morgan (4.9 ppg) are threats from 3-point range.

•Sophomore guard Trevon Faulkner has scored in double figures in each of NKU’s past six games. Faulkner averages 12.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game.

•The all-time series between NKU and Youngstown State is tied at 9-9. Eight of those games were played while NKU competed at the NCAA Division II level. Since the Norse reclassified to Division I, they hold a 7-3 advantage in the series. Youngstown State is 0-4 all-time at BB&T Arena.

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

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