By Paul Oren
DETROIT | Lavone Holland II scored 20 points to lead Northern Kentucky to its first NCAA tournament berth in its first season of eligibility.
The No. 4 Norse, which completed a four-year reclassification process in August, defeated No. 10 Milwaukee 59-53 in the 2017 Horizon League Men’s Basketball Championship title game on Tuesday at the Joe Louis Arena.
Northern Kentucky became just the seventh institution to earn a NCAA tournament berth in its first season of eligibility.
The Norse came out strong in their first Horizon League title game, taking a 13-4 lead just over five minutes into the contest. Northern Kentucky led by as many as nine points on five different occasions in the first half before the Panthers scored six straight points just before halftime to cut the deficit to 31-28.
Drew McDonald and Cole Murray ran the lead back up to eight points by knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers early in the second half. The Norse never lost their lead throughout the rest of the game, but they could never deliver the knockout punch to take Milwaukee out of the game.
The Panthers (11-24) got within one possession on three different occasions in the second half, but Holland II and McDonald found an answer every time. Holland II had six rebounds and four assists to go with his 20 points while McDonald added 14 points and 12 rebounds. Both players were named to the Horizon League All-Tournament Team with Holland II taking MVP honors.
Brock Stull led Milwaukee with 19 points while Brett Prahl added 12 points and five rebounds. Both players, along with Youngstown State’s Cameron Morse, were named to the All-Tournament team.
Motor City Madness featured a slew of upsets over the last five days, including Milwaukee knocking off the No. 2, 6 and 7 seeds. Northern Kentucky was the only team with a winning record to win a game in the 2017 Horizon League tournament.