CHARLESTON, ILLINOIS---Despite the temperature outside Lantz Arena being below freezing, the Northern Kentucky Norse and Eastern Illinois Panthers started out this evening's Horizon League/Ohio Valley Conference showdown hot.
How hot? Red hot as both were in double-figures before the under-16 media timeout (12-11 NKU)! However, as if a switch was flipped, the scoring slowed down drastically, and even ceased for a minute and 37 seconds until EIU's Marshawn Blackmon jumped into the passing lane and took a steal for two.
Although Eastern Illinois' 13-12 lead would be temporary, because of a Jake Giesler layup, 2014-2015 Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year Cornell Johnston and junior Anthony Johnson nailed back-to-back threes to sprint the Panthers ahead 19-14. Later, freshman Casey Teson was able to get in on the act with one of his two first half triples to give his squad a game-high six-point advantage.
Nonetheless, the Norse fought back thanks to EIU's unselfish play. Yes, this is not a typo. Thanks to A.J. Riley, Trae Anderson, and Lucas Jones not being able to decide who wanted the points on a 3-on-1 break, a turnover resulted that led to NKU's Tyler White nailing one of his game-high 3 treys to tie the game at 27 (3:36 in 1st). Five point swing! Still, Northern Kentucky was unable to use the series of events to spur themselves to a lead as the Panthers were ahead 32-31 going into the locker room.
Coming out for the second half, the Norse was able to throw the first punch with five immediate points to steal a four-point advantage. Following a 4-0 personal spurt from Eastern Illinois' Marshawn Blackmon, Trae Anderson threw down a monstrous put-back dunk that electrified the crowd in addition to almost bringing the house down! The time was finally right for the Panthers to pull ahead. Too bad they didn't.
In the last 17:43 of tonight's game (including overtime), the two one-win teams traded baskets with neither possessing more than a four-point margin of victory until the last 40 seconds.
Down a deuce with less than 90 seconds remaining in regulation, Northern Kentucky found themselves needing a score (60-58 EIU). So, who else than their most explosive player would you expect to make a play.
Guarding the wing aggressively the whole game, Lavone Holland II seized the ball, started driving towards his basket, and rose high into the air for a slam. The whistle blew, the ball rattled home, and Holland II was going to the line for an "and one" opportunity. Clank! The chance to take the lead was squandered, but the game was not lost.
On the next possession, Eastern Illinois' Joe Kuligoski became tangled up with Northern Kentucky's Jake Giesler resulting in a loose ball foul on the prior. The home faithful was furious for two reasons. Number one, the call could have gone either way as it seemed Giesler wrapped his arm with Kuligoski intentionally. And two, NKU was in the double bonus. The redshirt senior stepped to the foul line with the weight of the outcome of the game on his shoulders. Swish! Swish! The Norse had the lead with 37 seconds left!
Eastern Illinois set-up their offense needing a score. The ball found the hands of leading scorer A.J. Riley. Catching the ball, he then drove towards the rim and passed it off to Cornell Johnston. The sophomore next shook off his defender with the dribble, pump faked, and fired a game-tying attempt. Cash money! The game was tied.
Succeeding an NKU timeout with ten tics remaining, the Norse had their best chance to win the game as Tyler White came off a handoff with a decent look at the rim. Airball! But Jake Giesler was able to corral the offensive board under the basket! Off the mark! We were headed to overtime.
In the extra session, the Panthers played like they did to begin the game. Unfortunately for Northern Kentucky, they didn't get the memo to play as such. Starting with a three pointer, Eastern Illinois' Cornell Johnson finally looked like his freshman self by scoring eight straight points! 71-67 EIU! Following the trading of twos, NKU found themselves down four with 68 seconds left. Could they force a second overtime? Not even close as on their next possession Marshawn Blackmon supplied yet another steal for Eastern Illinois, resulting in another coast-to-coast layup. Game! Set! Match!
"Little T" Breaking Out of His Sophomore Slump
Fighting through an ankle injury to begin the season, "stud sophomore" Cornell Johnston has struggled greatly to begin his 2015-2016 campaign, for he entered tonight averaging 6.8 points per game on 30.8% shooting. On Saturday night, he was the back to being the 5'7" phenom Charleston, Illinois, fell in love with. Possessing only eight points in the first 33 minutes, "Little T" was "Clutch Cornell" as he righted a two of seven start bu making six of his least seven attempts while bucketing a game-high 24 points! When asked what clicked and led to him taking over the game, Johnston stayed humble by saying, "To be honest with you, I just wanted to win. I really didn't care who made the play, or who it went to. I just told my guys to come out and do their max effort." With tonight's victory, the 2-4 Eastern Illinois Panthers will pack a two-game winning streak on a five-game road trip that takes them to Marshall, Western Illinois, Houston, and Las Vegas for a four-team tournament prior to Christmas.
Living, Then Dying From Beyond The Arc
Although they made their first three out of first four three-point attempts, Northern Kentucky made only two the rest of game. So what! Maybe they didn't take many after the first four. No, they shot 22 more, finishing the evening 5 for 26 from downtown. The 1-5 Northern Kentucky Norse will have eight days off before they host Jeff Short's Norfolk State Spartans on December 13.
He Said It
"It was huge! He got the crowd in, got the momentum going with the dunk after I missed the floater, I think. That was the most---I think that was the turning point in the game, was (when) he jumped over the whole team and dunked."
---Cornell Johnston on Trae Anderson's put-back dunk with 12:43 left in second half.