The Norse (24-11) closed within 75-68 on Drew McDonald's 3-pointer with 35 seconds left. Malik Monk made four free throws to close it out. Monk, the SEC's player of the year, missed all of his six shots from beyond the arc and finished with 12 points, eight below his average. Freshman De'Aaron Fox scored 19 points.
Northern Kentucky reached the tournament in its first year of eligibility, only the seventh team to do so since 1970. For the Norse, the tournament was more of a starting point than the end of a season.
Norse players shook some of their fans' hands before leaving the court.
"I looked up and I saw my dad specifically, and he gave me a thumbs-up," McDonald said. "And that's what put a tear in my eye really, just to realize the impact we've put on our community and the university as a whole. It just struck me."
The contingent of Northern Kentucky fans dressed in black and gold enjoyed the start. Cole Murray had a chance to give the Norse a lead late in the first half, but missed on a 3-point try. The Wildcats outscored the Norse 15-3 the rest of the half , and they were in control until the closing flurry.
Northern Kentucky went only 8 of 32 from beyond the arc, well below its norm.
"We were the best shooting team in the Horizon League the entire season," coach John Brannen said. "Tonight was not our night from the 3-point line. I'd liked to have seen what happened if we had made a few more."
Northern Kentucky: Guard Lavone Holland II, who was the Horizon League Tournament's MVP, had 22 points on 10-of-21 shooting.
Kentucky: The Wildcats' freshman trio of Fox, Monk and Adebayo came in averaging 49.9 points, 14.5 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game. They combined for 36 points, 22 rebounds and six assists.
SHARING A SONG
Northern Kentucky's pep band played "My Old Kentucky Home" when the game ended.
PAST HIS BEDTIME
Calipari wasn't happy that the game ended at 12:17 a.m.