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NKU basketball keying on depth, consistency as Horizon League play opens

NKU guard Marques Warrick during his 45-point performance against Tennessee Tech Nov. 27, 2022 at Truist Arena.
NKU guard Marques Warrick during his 45-point performance against Tennessee Tech Nov. 27, 2022 at Truist Arena.

Northern Kentucky men's basketball standout Marques Warrick was named the Nike Horizon League Player of the Week for the second consecutive time after a record-setting outburst on Sunday.

Warrick went off for 45 points on Sunday in a double-overtime win over Tennessee Tech at Truist Arena. The 45 points are the highest in a single in NCAA Division I so far this season and an NKU Division I era record.

His 18 made field goals in the contest also set an NKU school record.

Marques Warrick:Sets Northern Kentucky scoring record as Norse top Tennessee Tech

NKU was without two starters in that game, sophomore wing Sam Vinson and senior point guard Xavier Rhodes.

NKU guard Marques Warrick during his 45-point performance against Tennessee Tech Nov. 27, 2022 at Truist Arena.
NKU guard Marques Warrick during his 45-point performance against Tennessee Tech Nov. 27, 2022 at Truist Arena.

“I told Marques before the game ‘Hey man, we’re a little short. We might need a 30-piece from you tonight' and he just went and did 45, He upped me by 15,” NKU head coach Darrin Horn said on Sunday. “From a coaching perspective, I’m watching a guy play 45 minutes in his fourth game in seven days and played with tremendous toughness. He handled the ball a ton, only had one turnover, shot a high percentage on his way to that 45, and down the stretch made huge defensive plays.”

Said Warrick on Sunday: “Let me forget the 45. I just wanted to win. I told this team before the game, I said, ‘Whatever it takes, you know, we got two starters out. A few people off the bench are going to have to step up. We’re going to have to step up.’”

That game had some other milestones.

Chris Brandon, Hubertas Pivorius and Jake Evans all have big nights for NKU

Chris Brandon, a 6-foot-8 graduate student, had 19 rebounds to go with six points, four steals and three assists. He is averaging 12.4 rebounds per game to go with seven points a contest.

Chris Brandon, shown here against UC, averages 12.4 rebounds per game.
Chris Brandon, shown here against UC, averages 12.4 rebounds per game.

Sophomore guard Hubertas Pivorius stepped into the starting lineup and provided a spark with 16 points and four assists. He hit a season-best four three-pointers and his 16 points also tied a career-high. JuJanior guard Jake Evans from Louisville Male High School had a career day as he posted seven assists.

The Tennessee Tech win was an early gut-check moment this season after the Norse went 0-3 in a Florida tournament, losing to Florida Gulf Coast, Texas-Arlington and Toledo. NKU is 3-4 overall as it plays its first two Horizon League games this weekend at Truist Arena.

If they had lost that game, confidence could have been at a big-time low heading into this weekend’s crucial contests.

“The way we won the game was more important than just winning the game,” Horn said Wednesday. “With two starters out, we needed guys to step up."

Sunday, Horn said: “Part of the challenge today is I overscheduled us, which is completely on me. Four games against really good competition in seven days, with a brutal travel day to get back, so no real day off. What some of those guys did as far as their minute totals is really, really impressive. It speaks a lot to them and what we are capable of when we play with level of competitive and mental toughness.”

Developing depth has been a priority for Horn, and the Norse saw flashes of improved depth in Florida.

Against UT-Arlington, L.J. Wells, a 6-foot-8 freshman forward from Wisconsin, dropped in a career-best 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting to go with seven rebounds, four steals and three assists in 32 minutes of play.

Rhodes had a career day in just his fifth contest in an NKU uniform as the transfer point guard dropped in a game-best 18 points to go with seven assists, both season highs. NKU opens Horizon League play this week inside Truist Arena with a Thursday showdown against Youngstown State at 7 p.m. Dec. 1 and follow it with a Saturday clash versus Robert Morris at 6 p.m. Dec. 3.

A look at NKU opponents Youngstown State and Robert Morris

Youngstown State was picked to finish fifth in the Horizon League preseason poll.

The Penguins are 5-2, with one of the losses at Notre Dame of the Atlantic Coast Conference, and by only seven, 88-81.

The Norse will welcome back a familiar face in Adrian Nelson, a 6-foot-8 forward who transferred to YSU in the offseason as a graduate student. Nelson left NKU sixth on the school's all-time rebounding list with 731.

Trevor Faulkner (22) and the Norse open Horizon League play this weekend.
Trevor Faulkner (22) and the Norse open Horizon League play this weekend.

So far this season, he leads the Penguins in scoring and rebounding, posting 14.4 points and 10 rebounds per game. He scored 27 points at Notre Dame.

YSU has four players averaging in double figures and scores 84 points per game on offense, shooting 50 percent from the floor. Senior guard Dwayne Cohill, a preseason first-team all-league pick, averages 13.9 points and 4.1 assists per game.

Robert Morris was picked to finish eighth in the Horizon League in the preseason poll.

The Colonials from the Pittsburgh area are 2-5. Both wins are against non-Division I competition and two of the losses are to power schools Ohio State (91-53) and Dayton (60-51).

RMU averages 70 points per game on offense and makes eight 3-pointers per game. Leading scorer Enoch Cheeks (16.8 ppg) has missed the last two games. Josh Corbin, a 6-foot-3 junior guard, averages 13.3 points per game and has hit 24 3-pointers in 52 attempts (46.2%). Kahliel Spear, a 6-foot-7 forward and graduate student, was second-team all-league in the preseason and averages 12.7 points and 8.4 rebounds.

Thursday's contest will be on Bally Sports Ohio (and on ESPN+ for those outside the BSOH coverage area) while Saturday's game will be available nationwide on ESPN+. Saturday's game also will feature the Teddy Bear Toss and a toy donation drive to benefit eastern Kentucky communities devastated by flooding this summer. All fans who donate a new toy or bring in a bear for the toss will receive a free ticket to any future NKU men’s or women’s game at Truist Arena. The drive is in conjunction with Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear's and First Lady Britainy Beshear's new statewide toy drive.

NKU women's basketball begins Horizon League play

The NKU women’s team will have a key weekend as well, playing its first two Horizon League games in Truist Arena.

NKU will play at 7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 2, at home against Youngstown State, then host Robert Morris at 2 p.m. Sunday.

YSU was picked to win the league this season in the preseason coaches poll and is currently ranked in the CollegeInsider.com Women's Mid-Major Top 25 poll. RMU was picked to finish ninth in the league and the Colonials are receiving votes in the latest CollegeInsider.com Women's Mid-Major Top 25 poll.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Northern Kentucky University basketball prepares for Horizon League