For 17 minutes on Sunday at Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati, the Northern Kentucky University men’s basketball team looked like it was in another battle with the University of Cincinnati.
The final 23 minutes told a different story however, the Bearcats separating for a 90-66 victory over the Norse.
NKU was punished in many ways looking for their second straight victory over the Bearcats, the most notable ones in rebounding and bench points.
The Bearcats outrebounded the Norse 45-30 and snagged 18 offensive rebounds, 12 of them in the first half as they continued to keep possessions alive and turn them into 24 second chance points.
Dan Skillings Jr. poured in 25 points off the bench as they held a 40-7 bench point advantage over the Norse reserves.
“We just kept it simple. Whenever we seen somebody put up a shot, we all just crashed the boards,” Skillings Jr. said.
The Norse struggled to get open looks, going 26-of-64 from the field and 4-of-20 from 3-point land.
They were going toe-to-toe against their second Power 5 opponent this season, trailing 24-23 with 6:37 left in the first half after a Sam Vinson triple, Vinson finishing with 15 points.
Things remained tight heading into the final media timeout of the half, the Bearcats holding a 33-29 advantage going into it with 3:05 left before the break.
But a 12-2 run started at the 2:47 mark on a Day Day Thomas layup, Cincinnati taking a 45-31 lead into the break.
“Just felt like we needed to pick the energy up a little bit more,” Thomas said. “Play harder on offense, play harder on defense and just share the ball.”
The Norse responded out of the half with the first four points, but a triple from Thomas stretched the lead back out to 48-35, igniting a 14-6 Bearcats run.
The Bearcats length and athleticism was just too much. Viktor Lakhin was the big factor in the paint, finishing with 14 points and 14 rebounds. Skillings Jr. added nine rebounds, he and Lakhin grabbing six offensive rebounds apiece. They led by as much as 25 in the second half with 8:45 to play.
Marques Warrick led the Norse with 19 points, getting going after his first points came nearly nine minutes into the game. Keeyan Itejere also hit double figures with 10 points and pulled down five rebounds, but foul trouble remained an issue for him, limited to 19 minutes of action and fouling out in the second half.
The matchup zone that gave the Bearcats fits in last season’s 64-51 victory and held UC to 11 second half points was figured out on Sunday. The Bearcats hit 50% from the field and knocked down 10 three-pointers. They had 21 assists on 35 made field goals.
“We had a lot of trouble last year with their match zone,” Bearcats coach Wes Miller said. “I thought we did a better job tonight moving the ball, being simple, being aggressive, and found some really good shots.”
The Norse took care of the ball well with just eight turnovers, but had just 10 assists on 26 made field goals.
NKU looks to get back on the winning track on Wednesday when they host the first of two games for their Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Thanksgiving Tournament against Texas A&M Corpus Christi at 6 p.m. They’ll then host Long Island University on Saturday at 4 p.m.
Highlands grad Sam Vinson and Covington Catholic grad C.J. Fredrick got to go up against one another once again. Vinson graduated from Highlands in 2021 as a state champion, Fredrick doing the same with the Colonels in 2018.
Fredrick got off to a solid start to the season with the Bearcats, hitting 7-of-12 from three in his first three games. He started on Sunday for the third time in four games and finished with three points on 1-of-6 shooting.
“He just impacts winning, does the right thing,” Miller said. “He impacts offense, you look at the numbers and he’s 1-for-6, but the impact he has on a possession because you got to be so aware of him at all times because you can’t leave him open. The impact he has on the defense is so significant. So his line might not look great today, but his impact on the game is significant. He’s solid, he’s reliable, and he’s in the right places. So even when his line’s not good, he has a significant impact on the game.”
The Bearcats are off to a 4-0 start. They’ll host Georgia Tech on Wednesday at 7 p.m.