Second place was there for the taking when Northern Kentucky and Cleveland State met on Sunday afternoon.
The Vikings (18-11, 13-5) won the battle of 12-5 teams in the Horizon League, 64-63 as the loss dropped the Norse (17-12, 12-6) in a tie for third place with Milwaukee in the conference standings with two regular season games remaining. Milwaukee holds the head-to-head tiebreaker being 2-0
The one-point loss was NKU’s third in conference play, dropping to 1-3 in such games, defeating Cleveland State by one at home on Jan. 19, but suffering setbacks to Oakland (Jan. 6), Milwaukee (Jan. 28) and the Vikings on Sunday.
Sunday’s game was tight throughout with eight ties and 11 lead changes, no one leading by more than six, Cleveland State’s 43-37 lead with 14:26 remaining and 51-45 with 8:54 to go the largest of the contest. The Norse rallied to tie the game at 57 with 2:44 to play on Xavier Rhodes 3-point play and again at 59-59 with 1:14 to go, but Tristan Enaruna’s jumper with 56 seconds left proved to be the game-winner for the Vikings.
NKU had their chances from there, but a missed jumper by Rhodes and a Jake Evans intentional missed free throw with four seconds left down two was corralled by the Vikings for the victory. Sam Vinson hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer, but the Norse were down four prior to the shot.
Marques Warrick led NKU with 26 points, the lone Norse in double figures. Vinson had nine points, Rhodes and Chris Brandon with seven apiece.
Cleveland State won the rebounding battle 42-31, but were outscored 15-12 in second chance points.
While the loss may have hurt conference tournament positioning for the Norse, a win at either Detroit on Thursday or at Oakland on Saturday assures the Norse will have a home game for the conference tournament quarterfinals next week.