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NKU drops Kennesaw State, 82-69

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (WKRC) -- After the offense bailed out the defense for Northern Kentucky University in the first half of Saturday night's Atlantic Sun Conference game against Kennesaw State, the Norse played one of their best halves of basketball on both ends of the floor this season in the second half to snap a three-game losing streak.

NKU shot 58.8 percent from the field, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range, and held Kennesaw State to 33.3 percent from the field in the second half to pull away from a 42-41 halftime lead for an 82-69 victory before a crowd of 1,783 at The Bank of Kentucky Center.

"Defensively we just weren't very tough in the first half, but to go in the locker room with a one-point lead and them shooting (66.7 percent) you have to feel you are in a decent position," said NKU head coach Dave Bezold, who picked up his 180th career win.

"I thought we did a much better job in the second half. I think 90 percent of it was us in the first half. When you're catching the ball a foot from the basket and all you're doing is catching, turning and laying it in there's not a lot of effort going on to keep the ball from getting into the post. It's partly my fault for not doubling the post right away, but you have to be able to do it without doubling and just playing with a little energy."

NKU (8-12 overall, 4-4 A-Sun) used a 14-3 run midway through the second half to erase a 52-51 deficit and take the lead for good. Sophomore guard Tyler White and freshman forward Cole Murray hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions about 15 seconds apart to end the spurt with NKU on top 65-55 with just over eight minutes remaining.

"That got us a little more energy," said Bezold. "We didn't have a lot of bounce to us on the bench or on the floor the first half and I thought there were a lot of careless mistakes we made and survived it."

During the three-game losing streak (road losses to USC Upstate and East Tennessee State and a home loss to Mercer) the Norse allowed the three teams to shoot a combined 50.6 percent from the field and each team scored over 70 points. NKU entered Saturday's game 2-10 on the season when allowing 70 points or more. The Norse are also now 5-1 when scoring 71 or more points.

Kennesaw State (4-16, 1-6), which had won just one of its last 11 games, entered the game shooting just 41.3 percent from the field and averaging 63.6 points per game on the season.

NKU had good balance as all five starters scored in double figures, led by junior guard Jordan Jackson and sophomore guard Todd Johnson, who had 18 points each. It was a career high for Johnson, who was 8-for-8 from the line. Sophomore center Jalen Billups added 12 points and eight rebounds, while both White and sophomore forward Anthony Monaco had 10 apiece. Monaco, who also had eight rebounds, was 8-for-8 from the foul line. Each of the five played at least 15 minutes in the second half, with Jackson and White playing all 20.

"You can get into a rhythm offensively, but also defensively and we wanted to make sure we had guys out there who could matchup defensively and in the second half we made a decision to play a limited number and they did a nice job," said Bezold.

Junior guard Delbert Love led Kennesaw State with 15 points and junior forward Nate Rucker had 14. Kennesaw State made just 12-of-34 shots from the field after starting the game 8-for-8.

"It was good for us to get this win, because we were kind of hanging our heads a little bit, but we knew in the second half we had to get defensive stops," said Johnson, who was 4-of-5 from the field overall and made two 3-pointers. "It was all on us (as players). The coaches can tell us what to do, but we have to just do it and we took the initiative in the second half to do it."

The two teams combined for 52 fouls and 75 free throws in the game.

"We needed to get a little swagger back after a few losses in a row," said Bezold.

NKU's recent defensive problems continued in the first half as Kennesaw State made its first eight shots from the field to start the game. Despite that though Kennesaw State only led as much as five points, the last time at 27-22 with just eight minutes left in the half.

Thanks to Kennesaw making just 4 of its last 10 shots from the field in the half, NKU came back to take as much as a 39-34 lead with 2:02 left and led 42-41 at halftime.

NKU, which shot 52.2 percent from the field in the first half, actually took a 2-0 lead before the game even started as Kennesaw State freshman forward Bernard Morena was assessed a technical foul for dunking in pre-game warm-up while the officials were on the floor. Monaco, who entered the game shooting 80.8 percent from the foul line, made the two technical free throws.

NKU is now 64-14 all-time in The Bank of Kentucky Center, including 6-3 this season.

NKU plays host to Lipscomb on Friday night in The Bank of Kentucky Center at 7 p.m.

Image and information provided by NKU Athletics




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