By RAYNA GLASS
Jobe Publishing Inc.
On Tuesday night the Norse of Northern Kentucky University faced Milwaukee in the title game of the Horizon League. While a league championship alone is prize worth fighting for, an added incentive was on the line, as both teams were playing for a bid to the biggest showcase in college basketball, the NCAA Tournament.
No matter the game’s outcome, NCAA tournament history would be made. Milwaukee (11-24), who last appeared in the tournament in 2014, would have the most losses that a team had ever entered the tournament with; NKU would go to the tournament for the first time in program history. Entering Division 1 basketball only five years ago, this was the first year that NKU was even eligible to make it to the big dance.
NKU had led comfortably for the majority of the game, but with 32 seconds left to play, Milwaukee had cut the deficit down to three. As the final seconds clicked off the clock, Milwaukee would snag three offensive rebounds on their last possession, but were unable to get off a shot. Meanwhile, NKU hit two free throws and a jumper, and leading scorer, Lavone Holland, hit the ground as his teammates pilled on in celebration. They would be the first to ever represent their school on college basketball’s biggest stage.
For those watching the game on ESPN Tuesday night, there was a familiar face on the court, jumping from the sidelines, and dancing in the team huddle- Mason Faulkner.
“It was a surreal moment, crazy,” said Faulkner. “It’s a dream coming true for me to play in the NCAA Tournament.”
Faulkner was a standout player in southern Kentucky, helping lead the Caverna Colonels to a district title last year. His list of accomplishments is long- runner-up Mr. Kentucky Basketball 2016, Co-fifth Region Player of the Year, and 2016 Courier Journal and Lexington Herald first team all state. In his senior season at Caverna he led the state in scoring, averaging 35.9 a game.
“In the beginning I wasn’t playing a lot, but my coaches told me to keep working, and I did and I then I had my chance scoring 26 points, then 29 and 24,” said Faulkner. “High school to college is crazy. In college you’ve got to share the ball more. It’s really a blessing to have this outcome.”
Faulkner’s standout game of the season came against Detroit Mercy in January when he put up his career high with the Norse, 29 points.
In the Horizon League tournament, Faulkner contributed two points, two rebounds, and one assist to the championship win. In their semifinal 84-74 win against Youngstown State, Faulkner had 14 points, three rebounds, and a steal, and in the quarterfinal 82-77 win over Wright State he added 12 points and a steal to the scoreboard.
The support of family, friends, and fans back home in South Central Kentucky has been a great source of encouragement to Faulkner in his transition to college ball and his recent NCAA success.
“My dad sent me a picture of some kids at my elementary school wearing my jersey and my name, it’s crazy to think I used to look up to players like that and now roles have reversed,” said Faulkner.
For now, he’ll focus on preparing for their next opponent. The team is hitting weights in the gym at 2 p.m. with practices starting at 3 p.m. everyday.
A lot of media have been circling Northern Kentucky, looking to document the team’s historic NCAA run. A crew from CBS joined Faulkner and his teammates during CBS’ Selection Sunday show.
“It’s a blessing to know that all the hard work paid off,” said Faulkner. “Anything is going to be hard, but our coaches said to go through with a positive attitude, we kept positive and it worked.”
A 15 seed in the South Region, Northern Kentucky will play the number two seed University of Kentucky Friday night at 9:40 EST in Indianapolis, IN.