Northern Kentucky’s Drew McDonald backed down Morehead State’s DeJuan Morrero for a layup to give the Norse a one-point lead with a minute left and NKU held on for an 84-79 win at the Johnson Arena Wednesday night.
Morehead had a chance to tie it down 82-79 with 7.8 seconds left, but a rushed midcourt pass from Malik Maitland to Miguel Dicent went off Dicent’s fingertips and into the hands of NKU’s Carson Williams. Williams was fouled immediately and made both free throws.
“It was a game of runs,” said NKU Coach John Brannen, who started his college playing career at Morehead in the mid-’90s before transferring to Marshall. “We could not stop them early on. They were nine of 14 from three and they’re not a three-point shooting team. So, (giving up) 64 percent from three on the road and you win? That’s unusual.”
Both teams shot better than 50 percent from the field, but NKU got a couple of key defensive stops toward the end. Up 78-77 with 1:24 left in the game, Morehead went to Morrero underneath, but his contested post-up missed. A possession later, down 79-78 after a McDonald basket, the Eagles went to Morrero again and were again denied.
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“We went in there and they did a very nice job of walling up and not fouling us, and I think we went in there expecting to try to get a couple of fouls instead of finishing buckets that we should normally finish,” said acting head coach Preston Spradlin.
This was Spradlin’s second game at the helm after head coach Sean Woods’ suspension with pay. Morehead began an investigation of Woods Nov. 22 after what it said were complaints against him. Morehead had no comment on the investigation Wednesday night.
McDonald, a 6-7 sophomore forward out of Newport Central Catholic, dominated Morehead inside and out, scoring 32 points on 12-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-4 from three-point range.
“He had a really nice game, obviously,” Spradlin said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at those stats. I was a little disappointed that when we had our opportunities to go at him, we didn’t quite take advantage of those.”
An exciting second half featured four ties and 10 lead changes as NKU countered Morehead’s ability to drive the lane by posting at will and getting open threes for McDonald and senior guard Cole Murray. Murray scored 12 points, all on three-pointers.
Northern Kentucky had five players in double figures, including Lavone Holland, who had 12 and hit 3-of-4 free throws down the stretch to extend NKU’s lead.
For Morehead, Maitland had 18 points, followed by Dicent with 16 and Lamontray Harris with 15. Xavier Moon, Morehead’s leading scorer, was held just below his average at 11 points, but had six assists. Maitland led the team with seven assists.
Looking for answers to the loss, Spradlin had to look no further than the foul line, where NKU went 20-for-31, while Morehead was just 6-for-9. Morehead averages more than 24 fouls per game, but had just five fouls in the first half as it kept its defensive composure.
“We kind of lost our minds a little bit,” Spradlin said of the second half. “We let them drive us, and we lost our discipline, and then we put them on the foul line.”
Morrero, the Eagles’ leading rebounder, drew his fourth foul trying to contain McDonald with more than eight minutes left in the game. Fellow forward Treshaad Williams had to check McDonald as well and also picked up four fouls.
NKU, one of the best rebounding teams in the country this season, outrebounded Morehead 34-27, including 10 offensive boards.
Maitland and Dicent led the Eagles’ attack in the first half with 13 points each.
Dicent went 3-for-4 from three-point range in the first half, but had no more long-range shots.
After a Murray three-pointer cut the Eagles’ lead to 32-30 with 2:37 left in the half, Maitland drove for a layup in the halfcourt and followed up with a steal in the lane and fast-break layup that gave Morehead its largest lead at 36-30 just over 30 seconds later.
McDonald scored 14 in the first half on 6-of-7 shooting, including two three-pointers. McDonald’s second three brought NKU within 36-33 at the 1:33 mark of the first half as the Norse kept contact.
“Drew McDonald was spectacular.” Brannen said. “He kept us in it while we were getting our bearings. In the first half, thank God for Drew, because Lavone (Holland II) was 1-for-7.”
Morehead State at Purdue
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Northern Kentucky at Norfolk State
When: 6 p.m. Saturday