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ETSU tops NKU, 64-50
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (WKRC) -- Missing two key starters turned out to be huge problem for Northern Kentucky during a 64-50 loss to East Tennessee State on Thursday night before a crowd of 1,368 in The Bank of Kentucky Center.
Northern Kentucky played without Tyler White (the team's second-leading scorer) and point guard Todd Johnson (the team's third-leading scorer and top 3-point shooter), and the Norse struggled mightily against East Tennessee State's 2-3 zone and full-court press, especially in the second half.
Northern Kentucky (8-16 overall, 4-8 Atlantic Sun Conference), which has lost four in a row and seven of its last eight games, shot just 26.9 percent from the field in the second half, including just 3-of-13 3-pointers, and was outscored 40-17 to watch a 33-24 lead at intermission to slip away.
"I felt like the first half we really settled in the last 12 minutes and had good offensive movement and in the second half the first 10 possessions we turned it over five times and just really struggled to find anything offensively," said NKU head coach Dave Bezold. "I had a fear going in that if they pressed us we'd be in trouble and it came to fruition. We really struggled in the second half of understanding how to get to get to a spot and keep your eyes up and get it kicked up ahead. Zone has been our Achilles' Heel for us right now."
Not having Johnson and White, who have combined to average just 3.3 turnovers per game and combined to make 75 of 203 three-point attempts (36.9 percent), was a huge factor in NKU's offensive struggles. White, who has a dislocated finger, is averaging 10.5 points per game, and Johnson, who has a high ankle sprain, is averaging 9.2 points per game and made 40 of his 93 3-point attempts (a team-high 43.0 percent).
NKU finished the game 5-for-27 on 3-point attempts.
"We haven't had any issues with (pressure) all year and the first time we played them we had one turnover (against the press)," said Bezold. "(Against the zone) that's the problem with being small. When the ball is swung they catch and don't see it as crisply and quickly as they're supposed to and then it's not open any longer. Maybe it was personnel. I have to look at the tape. Maybe there were some guys that were out there that made us go the first half that didn't get as many minutes in the second half. Maybe there was a guy on the floor who played too much."
The Norse actually pulled ahead 40-31 on a dunk with 10:45 left in the game by sophomore center Jalen Billups, who finished with a team-high 12 points and team-high 12 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season.
East Tennessee State (13-11, 6-5 A-Sun) then went on a 12-0 run to pull ahead 43-40 before NKU tied it at 43-43 on a 3-pointer by sophomore forward Anthony Monaco with 7:06 remaining.
East Tennessee State got treys on back-to-back possessions by junior guard Rashawn Rembert to pull ahead 51-45 and NKU never got closer. Rembert finished with a game-high 20 points and was 6-for-14 from 3-point range. The rest of East Tennessee State's team made just 4 of 14 treys as NKU played a 2-3 zone almost the entire game instead of its usual man-to-man defense.
"My fear was we have to play (zone) extended and when it's not sitting in front of you, you can't communicate," said Bezold. "(Rembert) got loose because of carelessness. The guys know he shot-fakes and that's what he did two straight times and he bangs two threes."
NKU also had trouble attacking East Tennessee State's zone for the first 10 minutes of the game. The Norse made just 1 of their first 11 shots from field thanks to eight of those attempts being three-pointers, one of which they made (the team's first basket of the game seven minutes into it).
The Norse then began getting the ball into the high post with regularity and finished the first half making 10 of their final 17 shots from the field to close on a 21-4 run to take the 33-24 halftime lead after trailing 20-12 with 11:09 left in the half. NKU didn't have a single point in the paint for the first 10:23 of the game, but scored 16 of its final 21 points in the paint over the final 9:37 of the half.
NKU took a 2-0 lead before the game even started when East Tennessee State's Hunter Harris was called for a technical foul for dunking in pre-game warm-up. Monaco, who entered the game shooting 82.9 percent from the line, made the two free throws. It was the second time this season that NKU started with a 2-0 lead, because a player dunked in pre-game warm-up and was assessed a technical foul.
Jordan Jackson finished with five points and eight rebounds for Northern Kentucky, which is 1-3 all-time against East Tennessee State.
Northern Kentucky plays host to USC Upstate at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Image and information provided by NKU Athletics