DETROIT | Drew McDonald had 26 points and nine rebounds to lead No. 4 Northern Kentucky within one step of its first NCAA tournament appearance in just its first season of postseason eligibility.
The Norse opened up a 15-point halftime lead and then held off several runs from No. 9 Youngstown State in an 84-74 win in the 2017 Horizon League Men’s Basketball Championship semifinals.
Northern Kentucky joined the Horizon League prior to the start of the 2016-17 season and became NCAA tournament eligible for the first time this season after completing its full transition to Division I.
McDonald scored 17 of his team-high 26 points in the first half as the Norse (23-10) opened up a 42-27 halftime lead. The Penguins (13-21) would not be deterred as they scored the first nine points of the second half to cut the deficit to six points. LaVone Holland responded with two quick 3-pointers and Northern Kentucky had the lead back to 12 points within two minutes.
The Norse ran its lead up to as many as 16 points before Youngstown State once again came roaring back. Matt Donlan and Cameron Morse scored 17 of Youngstown State’s next 20 points as the Penguins got to within 79-74 with 2:21 remaining. Dantez Walton missed the front end of a one-and-one on Northern Kentucky’s next possession, but McDonald tracked down the rebound and flipped the ball to Walton who buried a corner 3-pointer to extend the lead to eight points.
Morse finished with a game-high 28 points and the Youngstown State junior has scored a tournament-best 74 points through the first four days of Motor City Madness. Francisco Santiago had 15 points, nine rebounds and seven assists while Donlan added 14 points and six rebounds. Holland had 20 points and three steals for the Norse.