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Not just the same old, same old for NKU in a big Horizon 74-54 win over Purdue Fort Wayne

By Dan Weber
NKyTribune sports reporter

There are few near-certainties in life, especially when you’re talking sports.

But here’s one of them. Catch a basketball game at NKU’s Truist Arena and you can pretty much bet you’re going to be in for a close game. You won’t be leaving early.

NKU’s Sam Vinson on his way to 17 points Saturday against Purdue Fort Wayne(Photo by Dale Dawn)

The Norse men specialize in down-to-the-wire finishes. They’ve won six of them, in a combined five overtime periods with five by four points or less. They needed a prayer three from the logo to win by a point Thursday over Cleveland State.

So we weren’t fooled by that 13-point NKU lead – 29-16 – over a 13-7 Purdue-Fort Wayne team with just over three minutes left in the first half.

And with the Mastodons – yep, that’s their nickname, apparently all the cool names were gone when the Fort Wayne folks got their pick – going on a 7-0 run to close out the first half, it was on.

Another close one. Everyone will be staying to the final buzzer.

Only they didn’t have to. Pardon us for the miscalculation.

Maybe we should have realized that with NKU’s leading scorer Marques Warrick taking a pass the first half and scoring just two points while Trey Robinson (11 points) and Sam Vinson (10) did all the heavy lifting for a Northern team leading 29-23, what would this look like if Warrick came back?

We were about to find out as we check our second-half notes: “Warrick jumper,” “Warrick drive,” “Warrick 3,” “another Warrick 3 off a deep rebound,” all in the first five minutes as NKU upped the ante to 44-28 enroute to a 74-54 romp that had the Norse up by as many as 26 with 4:09 left.

NKU’s Trevon Faulkner dunks after a steal against Purdue Fort Wayne. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

“I hope our fans don’t feel like they were cheated,” NKU Coach Darrin Horn said with a laugh. “But this is far better for my health.”

Warrick certainly gave the NKU fans their money’s worth in the second half. And no, he wouldn’t have been surprised if you’d have told him after that two-point, one-for-four-shooting first half that he’d be the game’s leading scorer with 18 points.

Not really, he said. “There have been lots of times,” Warrick said when he’s turned things around from one half to the next. “I just have to keep my same mindset.”

A scorer’s mindset, if you will, whose 19.1 average leads the Norse. His coach wasn’t surprised about the turnaround for the junior from Lexington. “He’s one of those guys who can get 15 by just tying his shoes,” Horn said.

Warrick did more than that in the second half. Like his teammates in what Horn called “our most complete game on both ends,” his and their “focus” was in the right place as the now 13-8 Norse were both “aggressive” and “confident.”

But it was a new-look Vinson and super-sub Robinson who carried the Norse to a place where Warrick, among others, could bring them home in a 45-31 second half.

One of those was senior Trevon Faulkner, out of Harrodsburg, who came off the bench to score 14 points while recording four assists with two steals in 23:16.

“It feels good,” Faulkner said of the 20-point win. “We played the whole 40 minutes, played defense the whole way. I think it was good not to have a tight game.”

NKU super sub Trey Robinson scoring in his 11-point first half. (Photos by Dale Dawn)

And not just for the coach’s health. For Vinson, the sophomore former Kentucky Mr. Basketball from Fort Thomas Highlands who shows up across the board in so many stats, his 17 points were matched with his team-high six rebounds, his team-high three steals and tied-for-team-high four assists.

“Just getting in the extra work,” Vinson said, “getting extra shots after practice.” But it wasn’t just him, “the bench was off the charts,” he said of his teammates calling out the time left on the shot clock that Vinson, especially, was able to make work with last-second scores.

“It’s just confidence,” Horn said of the pickup in Vinson’s game the second half of the season when he hasn’t been “letting the last play bring him down . . . we have so much confidence in Sam, not just as a player but as a winner.”

Which is how the 2,872 fans walked out of Truist Arena, and not early either, but after the final buzzer as they stood and applauded as the Norse left the floor big winners and tied for first at 8-2 in the Horizon League.

The fans seemed pleased not to have had to wait until the final shot to see who the winner was.

Faulkner driving on Purdue Fort Wayne’s Bobby Planutis. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

They’ll get a couple more chances this coming week when NKU hosts Green Bay Thursday and Milwaukee Saturday before heading into the witness protection program for February with seven of the final eight conference games on the road in a league schedule Horn calls “ridiculous.”

And not just for Northern. “Cleveland State has four road games in eight days,” Horn said. “I’m not sure any league has a schedule like that.”

Note to Horn: None does.

Which is why he wasn’t focused on that 8-2 Horizon record. “I’m not really worried on where we’re placed,” Horn said, as great as it would be to win the league in the regular season, “but to get better as the season moves on.”

Saturday, the Norse did both.

PURDUE-FT. WAYNE (13-8, 5-5 Horizon): Planutis 3-2-2-10, Kpedi 1-0-1-3, Godfrey 3-2-0-8, Chong Qui 4-1-1-10, Billups 3-2-1-9, Mulder 1-0-2-4, Roberts 4-0-2-10, Morton-Robertson 0-0-0-0, Peterson 0-0-0-0, Dunton 0-0-0-0, TOTALS: 19-7-9-54.
NORTHERN KENTUCKY (13-8, 8-2 Horizon): Brandon 0-0-0-0, Robinson 4-3-0-11, Vinson 7-3-0-17, Warrick 7-2-2-18, Rhodes 4-1-0-9, Faulkner 5-2-2-14, Sumler 0-0-0-0, Zorgvol 0-0-0-0, Pivorius 1-1-0-3, Wells 1-0-0-2, Mason 0-0-0-0, Evans 0-0-0-0, TOTALS: 29-12-4-74.

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