HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — It is hard to imagine any Ohio Athletic Conference school had a tougher test to open the season than the Wilmington College men’s basketball team.
Wilmington opened the season Sunday against Northern Kentucky, the defending Horizon League tournament champions.
Despite a strong effort, Wilmington dropped the season opener to the Norse 93-65 at BB&T Arena.
It was the type of effort that will benefit the Fightin’ Quakers against Division III schools, according to head coach K.C. Hunt.
“I am really proud of our guys,” Hunt said. “I thought we really competed. That’s all we wanted to do … to come in here and put our best foot forward with our effort and togetherness. I’m proud of what I saw.
“I think it sets the table for us to know we can play and compete at a really high level.”
Despite taking a 20-point lead into halftime, NKU head coach John Brannen thought his team didn’t match the effort of Wilmington in the first half.
“I thought Wilmington played harder than us in the first half,” Brannen said. “That’s a credit to their coaching staff and team. They came in here physically and took it to us.”
Coming out of the half, NKU’s Drew McDonald showed why he’s the Horizon League preseason player of the year.
After scoring just three points in the first half, McDonald scored 15 points in the first 5:03 of the second half. That expanded the Northern Kentucky lead to 67-36.
“That’s a really good basketball team,” Hunt said of the Norse. “I think they can definitely make another run. They’ve got some special players, and it’s a real treat to play in this type of environment.
“We’re not going to play anybody better all year long.”
McDonald led NKU with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Jeff Garrett added 13 points and 15 rebounds. NKU dominated on the boards, 50-26. McDonald and Garrett combined for as many rebounds as Wilmington pulled down.
The rebounding disparity, which included a 17-5 NKU edge on the offensive glass, led the Norse to a 23-2 advantage in second-chance points.
Andrew Russell led Wilmington with 14 points. Nathan Scott added 13 points. Will Patrick scored 10.
While the schedule might get easier for Wilmington, it won’t be easy. Up next is a Wednesday showdown at Thomas More, who played in the NCAA Division III tournament last season.
Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017
@ BB&T Arena
Northern Kentucky 93, Wilmington 65
W — 32 – 33 — 65
N — 52 – 41 — 93
(65) WILMINGTON (fg-3fg-ft-tp) Andrew Russell 5-1-3-14, Nathan Scott 5-3-0-13, Christian Jones 2-1-1-6, DJ Iles 0-0-4-4, Jordan Jones 2-0-0-4, Will Patrick 4-1-1-10, Kevin Lewis 2-0-2-6, Payton Smith 1-0-0-2, Jalen Horton 0-0-2-2, Colin Meyers 1-0-0-2, Brandon Cox 1-0-0-2. TOTALS 23-6-13-65.
(93) NORTHERN KENTUCKY (fg-3fg-ft-tp) Jordan Garnett 3-2-0-8, Jalen Tate 2-0-0-4, Carson Williams 2-0-3-7, Drew McDonald 7-3-1-18, Lavone Holland II 3-2-2-10, Tre Cobbs 2-1-2-7, Jeff Garrett 6-0-1-13, Mason Faulkner 1-1-0-3, Tyler Sharpe 1-1-5-8, Dantez Walton 3-1-0-7, Chris Vogt 3-0-2-8. TOTALS 33-11-16-93.
FIELD GOALS: W 23/57 (Russell 5/10, Scott 5/11, Patrick 4/7); N 33/66 (McDonald 7/13, Garrett 6/8)
3 POINT FIELD GOALS: W 6/25 (Scott 3/9); N 11/31 (McDonald 3/7, Garnett 2/3, Holland 2/2)
FREE THROWS: W 13/17 (Iles 4/4, Russell 3/3); N 16/22 (Scharpe 5/6, Williams 3/4)
REBOUNDS: W 26 (C. Jones 5, Mercer 4); N 50 (Garrett 15, McDonald 11, Williams 5, Garnett 4, Walton 4)
ASSISTS: W 10 (Smith 3); N 24 (Holland 4, Cobbs 4, Faulkner 3)
STEALS: W 4 (Lewis 2); N 7 (Walton 4)
BLOCKED SHOTS: W 1 (Scott); N 5 (Garrett 2)
TURNOVERS: W 16; N 17
Matt Sexton covers sports for the News Journal. Follow him on Twitter @byMattSexton.