Northern Kentucky Norse guard Tyler Sharpe (15) drives to the basket against Wright State Jan. 11. He had 14 points, including a clinching free throw with 2.8 seconds to play. (Photo: Kareem Elgazzar)
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. – Northern Kentucky University does not have a football team.
Head men’s basketball coach John Brannen, who used to be an assistant at football heavyweight Alabama, is clearly a fan of the sport after bringing something that might be found in Nick Saban’s playbook to BB&T Arena Friday night.
NKU went viral over the weekend after the Norse ran an unorthodox inbounds play with 11.8 seconds left in their eventual 68-64 win over Wright State.
With the Norse leading by three, 67-64, Dantez Walton was set to inbound the ball. The other four Norse players in action joined him on the baseline, spread out. Then, when Walton accepted the ball from the official, the other four ran upcourt like they were wide receivers, running routes of various lengths and shapes.
Walton inbounded to Tyler Sharpe on the short route less than five yards away, but the Raiders were confused enough by the action that the Norse were able to play keep-away, with Walton and Drew McDonald also handling the ball until Sharpe was fouled in the frontcourt with 2.8 to play. Sharpe made one of two foul shots to clinch the win, a sweet one for the Norse, who lost both meetings with the Raiders last season.
The play gained national attention over the weekend. Scott Van Pelt made that the focus of his nightly “Best Thing I Saw Today” segment on ESPN SportsCenter. Major sports news sites reported on the play. CBS Sports did an interview with Brannen.
“Dan Muller actually ran the play at Illinois State, so I have to give him credit,” Brannen, told CBS Sports. “I saw him run it, and I liked it because of the fact that it allowed us to get the ball inbounds, because you never see it. And secondly, it put us in position to put our two best foul shooters in position to probably be the first and second options on the play, which was the main thing because we were up three with 11 seconds to go.”
NKU, 14-4 and 4-1 in the Horizon League, is in second place, half a game behind Detroit Mercy, who is 5-1 in league play (8-10) overall. NKU won at Detroit 95-73 Jan. 5.
Oakland (8-11, 4-2), Green Bay (9-9, 3-2) and UIC (9-9, 3-2) are all one loss behind NKU and Detroit.
NKU plays the bottom two teams in the standings next weekend, heading up north to play Cleveland State (0-6, 5-14) 7 p.m. Thursday and Youngstown State (2-4, 6-13) 6 p.m. Saturday.
Wright State (2-3, 8-10) plays those same two teams. UIC and IUPUI (2-3, 10-8) play at Green Bay and Milwaukee (2-3, 7-11) next weekend, and Oakland plays at Detroit on Saturday.