Flyers men’s basketball holds on to 66-60 win over NKU

The toughness needed to come away with a 66-60 win against NKU was etched on the faces of the Flyers after Tuesday night’s game. Photo courtesy of Griffin Quinn, Flyer News.

Peter Burtnett
Sports Editor

In another game decided by two or less possessions, the Flyers men’s basketball team came away with a 66-60 win over Northern Kentucky Tuesday night.

After their first two games finished in a 66-63 win over Eastern Illinois and a 66-64 last-second loss to SMU last Saturday, the Flyers looked to get back in the win column against the defending Horizon League Tournament champions, NKU.

As has been the theme for the Flyers in the early part of this season, the scoring started with redshirt senior guard Ibi Watson, who knocked down a three to give the Flyers an early lead on their first possession.

The Norse responded with a quick 7-0 run, and the Flyers quickly found themselves trailing 7-3 just 4:08 into the game at the first media timeout of the first half. 

High pressure and closing off passing lanes forced several early turnovers for the Flyers, a theme which continued throughout Tuesday night’s game and ended in 22 turnovers.

“This game was different than (our) other games because of the style of play,” UD head coach Anthony Grant said. “Northern Kentucky came in a very confident team, came in and obviously, first time we’ve seen that defense all year. And so we had to figure some things out.

“I thought our guys did a good job making some adjustments throughout the course of the game and staying with it.”

Grant added seeing the team be able to return the punches they took early on was good to see.

The high pressure and 2-3 zone allowed players like redshirt junior forward Chase Johnson to make cuts, finding space in the post. The Flyers thrived on these opportunities, finishing with 38 points in the paint.

“It just kind of happened,” Johnson said. “I cut in a couple of times on the elbow and in the post and they just doubled, so it was kind of hard. But the big thing for me was just moving without the ball, just trying to find the open gap and the point guards were able to hit me in the paint.”

Over the next four minutes, NKU continued to exert their early hold on the game, with points coming from four different scorers, punctuated by jumpers from freshman forward David Bohm, giving NKU a 16-8 lead with 11:40 remaining in the half.

However, a quick dose of Watson (lay-up and three) and redshirt senior guard Jalen Crutcher (and-1 lay-up set up by a spin and assist from fellow redshirt senior guard Rodney Chatman) quickly erased the 8-point hole and tied the game at 16 with 9:08 left in the half.

After this, the team went back-and-forth for several minutes, with the Flyers taking a 19-18 lead into the under-8 media timeout at 7:55 remaining following a dunk from redshirt senior center Jordy Tshimanga. 

By the next media timeout with 2:28 remaining in the half, the Norse had run out to a 32-27 lead. But with two free throws from Watson on the other end of that media timeout, the scoring would soon stop for the Norse.

Watson sank both free throws, true freshman R.J. Blakney got a tip-in lay-up on a good follow from a miss, then drew a charge which led to a Crutcher three-pointer on the other end. Johnson threw down a dunk just before the end of the half to give the Flyers a 36-32 lead heading into halftime on a 9-0 run.

“Really it was just focusing on trying to get stops and energy,” Blakney said. “We just needed a jolt, and we needed something off the bench, and I tried to help by just playing as hard as I can and giving good minutes.”

Grant also praised Blakney’s effort after the game, saying he was impressed by Blakney’s energy and competitive spirit as the freshman become more comfortable with the team’s system.

“I think he can be a guy that can grow into a role force this year,” Grant said. “So, yeah, it was good to see him go out, especially in a game like this that was a highly contested game, a physical game, to see him go out there and be able to do the things that we needed him to do to impact winning.”

At halftime, the Flyers were shooting 56 percent from the field, 44 percent from three, and were a perfect 4-for-4 from the line. But even while shooting efficiently and winning the battle of the board (16-12 on rebounds), the Flyers had turned the ball over 11 times, resulting in 14 NKU points off turnovers.

As the second half started, the Flyers continued their 9-0 run from the end of the first half, and extended the run to 22-2 at the under-16 media timeout, leading 49-34 with 15:41 remaining in the game, just after a Johnson dunk and a pair of technical free throws by Watson after NKU was charged with a team technical foul.

The Flyers’ lead teetered between single- and double-digits for the next twelve minutes, with the Flyers leading 55-47 at the under-12 media timeout (11:05), 59-48 at the under-8 timeout (7:37) and back down to 61-53 with 3:47 remaining in the game. 

“From about the 12-minute mark of the second half to the end of the game, I thought they out-played us in a lot of different ways,” Grant said. “I think turnovers were a big factor in that, obviously the second chance opportunities they got, the rebounding, and then tonight they really hurt us with their transition game.”

The Flyers still led field goal percentage (54 to 39) and rebounds (34-23), but turned the ball over (21 turnovers to 14) and fouled more frequently (21 to 16) to allow NKU to hang around in the game.

Led by junior guards Trevon Faulkner (15 points) and Bryson Langdon (13 points), the Norse continued to chip away, trimming the Flyers’ lead to 64-57 with 1:12 remaining in the game.

A three from Faulkner cut the lead to 64-60 with 43.2 seconds left, NKU calling their final timeout of the game. 

On the Flyers’ next possession, a tipped pass was originally called out of bounds, last touched by the Flyers, and the call stood, giving the Norse the ball with 34.1 seconds left. 

However, NKU was unable to get a shot to fall, Crutcher sank a pair of free throws to increase his point total to 17 for the game (also dished out 8 assists), and the Flyers came away with the narrow 66-60 win.

Watson led all scorers with 19 points, but also turned the ball over 7 times, while Johnson added 16 points and 10 rebounds, his first double-double as a Flyer. The other two starters, Chatman and Tshimanga, added a combined 8 points, 5 assists (all from Chatman) and 11 rebounds. Blakney finished with 6 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 each of an assist, block and steal. 

“There’s a lot of areas tonight that we got out-played, I got out-coached,” Grant said. “But we were fortunate to get the win, so we’ll figure it out and I still believe this team can figure it out. I think we’re capable of doing it. I gotta do my part and help.”

Next, the 2-1 Flyers travel to Atlanta on Saturday to face Mississippi State in the noon game of Holiday Hoopsgiving. 

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