The Northern Kentucky University women’s basketball team (12-7, 6-4) may be taking things on a game-by-game basis.
But once the Cleveland State Vikings (17-3, 8-2) turned into the next opponent, the Norse dialed in for a huge reason. The Vikings had beaten the Norse in five straight meetings, including three times last year, the last one ending Northern Kentucky’s season in the Horizon League quarterfinals.
After Friday’s win over Purdue at Fort Wayne, Northern Kentucky head coach Camryn Whitaker said this year’s Cleveland State team is more well-rounded than the one that finished 23-9 overall last year, losing to Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis in the Horizon League title game. But the Norse came up big in the fourth quarter to pull off a 73-69 victory Sunday at Truist Arena and take sole possession of fifth place halfway through the conference slate at 6-4 and drop Cleveland State into a three-way first-place tie with Green Bay and Youngstown State at 8-2.
“I think our team as a whole executed the game plan to a T,” Whitaker said. “Now there were some things that we didn’t do well – a couple fouls that we need to eliminate. But for the most part, I thought we took them out of their game in the first half and that allowed us to make a little run and get ahead because as we all known when you play good teams, they’re going to make their runs and they did in that third quarter. I’m just real proud of our effort.”
Northern Kentucky built a 16-10 lead in the first quarter and held the lead until Cleveland State tied it with 2:13 left in the third quarter. But the Norse regained it leading 58-53 into the fourth quarter. The Vikings would rally and the leads switched a number of times in the fourth quarter.
Cleveland State led 69-66. After two missed chances to increase the lead, Norse sophomore guard Khamari Mitchell-Steen grabbed a rebound with 59 seconds left and graduate student center/forward Emmy Souder hit a lay-up in the paint to trim the margin to 69-68.
Northern Kentucky elected not to foul at the other end. Cleveland State guard Deja Williams missed a lay-up at the other end and Souder grabbed the rebound giving the Norse the ball back with 11 seconds left. After a timeout, Northern Kentucky sophomore guard Kailee Davis brought the ball up the court, dribbled right then reversed left finding junior guard Kennedy Igo on the left wing. Igo knocked it down giving the Norse a 71-69 advantage with four seconds left. After both teams took timeouts, Williams missed a three-point try and Northern Kentucky senior guard Ivy Turner made both free throws at the other end to make the final score.
“It was exciting,” Igo said. “Like Coach Whit said, I wasn’t originally supposed to be in that position then Cleveland State called timeout and (Whitaker) flipped us. I didn’t know exactly how much time was on the clock. But I was open and I shot it.”
Igo came off the bench to score 11 points for the Norse. She hit 3-of-5 from 3-point range, including two crucial ones in the fourth quarter and dished out three assists.
The Norse put four players in double figures including their three leading scorers. Graduate student guard Lindsey Duvall recorded her eighth double-double on the season with 19 points and 11 rebounds to go with one steal.
“I was really proud of the whole team because they went on a lot of runs, little ones here and there,” Duvall said. “I just though it was really important of us not fouling. I let an offensive rebound happen, which led to a foul. Just keying on the defensive end making sure I’m blocking out was a key for me in that second half.”
Northern Kentucky’s dynamic backcourt once again did its thing. Senior guard Ivy Turner scored 17 points to go with eight assists and three rebounds and sophomore guard Kailee Davis scored 13 points to go with one assist.
The Norse had 19 assists, nine turnovers and six steals compared to 14 assists, 13 turnovers and five steals for the Vikings. Northern Kentucky doubled up Cleveland State, 18-9 in points off turnovers. Turner had three steals with Mitchell-Steen tallying five assists and two steals.
Northern Kentucky won the rebounding battle, 40-39 including a 17-11 edge on the offensive glass. Souder tied Duvall with 11 rebounds to go with six points and two blocked shots.
Cleveland State had three different players score in double figures. Senior forward Brittni Moore led the way with 20 points and the Horizon League’s Preseason Player of the Year in junior guard Destiny Leo scored 17 points with freshman forward Jordan Reisma scored 12.
Northern Kentucky plays seven of its last 10 games on the road starting Thursday at Robert Morris (8-11) at 7 p.m.