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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

NKU Falls to Louisville in First Round of NIT (SPONSORED by The Diamond Exchange)

Two teams with other plans for March Madness met at the KFC Yum Center for a first round match up in the NIT. News reports that #2 seeded Louisville Cardinals didn’t want to play in the NIT seemed to have little effect on the crowd attendance of 9,941 with the lower bowl and suites fully packed. The upper arena was closed off by a curtain.

The Norse showed up as the 7 seed after a disappointing first round exit from the Horizon conference tournament, after winning the conference title.

A few ‘test’ rules by the NCAA for the 2018 NIT include four 10 minute quarters instead of two halves. The Cards got out fast to a 5-0 lead banging the ball inside but pesky defense and team rebounding kept the Norse tight in the first few minutes. As Louisville substituted its bench rapidly in the first quarter, their shot selection moved outside the arc and allowed the Norse to build some momentum with the Cards missing six straight threes after making two of their first three.

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The first quarter ended with a soft floater by Lavone Holland making it 16-15 UofL after one quarter.

A 9-3 run by the Norse to start the second quarter had Louisville fans noticeably agitated and displeased with their teams shot selection and team play. The flow of the game seemed to feel more like open gym at times than a potentially season-ending game.

Midway through the second quarter, Interim Louisville Head Coach, David Padgett, went back with the starting lineup and the crowd amped up to help push the Cards back into a one possession game with two minutes left in the half. Three foul calls and an offensive walk called on the cards in a 40 second span woke up the crowd and had them on their feet booing Holland as he made the first of a 1-1 with 52.6 seconds left in the half. Holland sunk the second and another two from the charity stripe in the final minute from McDonald gave the Norse a 30-23 lead at half time.

The third quarter started with bang-bang plays, both teams finding the basket and lane easily. But, UL got out to a 9-4 run, which cut the lead to two as McDonald picked up his third personal sending him to the bench.

Foul trouble loomed with McDonald already on the bench and Holland with two fouls with 16 minutes left in regulation. Louisville fans remained in the game and loud after two consecutive blocks by Spalding and Mahmoud. With four minutes left McDonald reentered the game as the Norse started to look fatigued.

Louisville looked noticeably longer and taller than the Norse but the smaller squad from Highland Heights had outworked the Cards on the boards. Louisville fans erupted to their feet with two minutes left in the third with their first lead of the half 41-39. The Norse punched right back with a 5-0 run capped off with a strong and-1 finish by Tyler Sharpe. In the final minute of the third, the Cards took control right back and the quarter ended just as it started, bang bang plays and the Cards getting a last run flying into the lead 45-44 at the end of the third. Ten minutes to play for a trip to the second round of the NIT to play the winner of MTSU v Vermont.

A Ryan McMahon steal and layup with 8:40 to play put UL up six, which brought the crowd back on their feet and a timeout by Brannen to gather his players.

The Norse moved the ball well but had two layups rim out and missed a wide open three pointer from the corner in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter. The offense continued to drive through McDonald but Louisville began closing down and double teaming him. Open shots continued to miss for the Norse and the referees clearly made a decision to keep their whistles in the pocket more the second half.

With 6:28 to play, VJ King made two free throws to put Louisville up 10. All conference guard Holland hit two threes in 45 seconds sandwiching a Darius Perry three for UL, and the lead was down to seven with 4:52 and the Norse seem to have some swagger back.

Consecutive turnovers and steals by both teams led to a crazy fifth minute of the quarter but the Norse couldn’t capitalize on offense. For a large stretch of the last five minutes each team’s strength was the opponent’s mistakes. The final TV timeout came with 2:54 to play, and Louisville came out of it using another timeout because of tough defense and the Norse forced a stop and scored to cut it to five with two minutes to play.

The next Norse possession picked up a fifth foul on Louisville’s Dwayne Sutton but another layup by Tyler Sharpe rimmed out and led to a run out by Deng Adel putting the Cards up 62-54. With a minute to play the Norse were forced to foul down eight and sent Adel back to the line and he hit two putting UL up 10.

The Norse would get no closer than seven and Holland fouled out, calmly walking off the court to a large applause as his storied career came to an end.

The final score of 66-58 is the final chapter of the full second season for Northern Kentucky in NCAA D1.

By Nick Phelps, FTM contributor 

PHOTO: NKU's Tyler Sharp crashes into photographer row, including RCN's Brian Frey 

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