---Steven Wright glides past SIUE’s Ty Johnson

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. - No one in the Great Lakes Valley Conference was sending cards of sympathy to Northern Kentucky University after the Norse started league play 0-2.

Given the fact NKU was picked to win the GLVC East, most league coaches probably were glad to see the favored Norse in an early-season predicament. And, with defending regional champion Southern Illinois at Edwardsville looming Saturday afternoon in Regents Hall, an 0-3 start in conference play was a distinct possibility.

“When we came in here on Friday, coach (Dave Bezold) said that we can come in here, hang our heads and feel sorry for ourselves, but nobody else in the conference feels bad for Northern,” NKU junior forward Vincent Humphrey said.

Instead of sulking over Thursday’s last-second loss to No. 20 Quincy, NKU did something about it Saturday afternoon in the form of an 81-76 victory over No. 21 SIUE.

The Norse improved to 4-2 overall, 1-2 in the GLVC. They also made Bezold look like a prophet.

“It was nice to see our guys respond, and I knew they would,” said Bezold, whose team rallied from an early 12-3 deficit. “In the locker room before the game, I told them I know we believe we should beat everybody, and we believe we are a good team, but if we actually beat SIUE, it is going to get us over that hump.

“Instead of just believing it, we will know it. We actually proved it. That’s what you have to do. You have to prove that you deserve to win games, and then win them.”

Humphrey scored nine of his season-high 17 points in the first half to key the NKU comeback. He also made a pair of clutch 3-point shots in the second half and was perfect (6-for-6) from the free-throw line.

“Vince is one of those guys who is so solid in everything that he does,” Bezold said. “He’s a very intelligent basketball player, and he gives us that dimension of having some size with the ability to step outside and do a great job of shooting it. When he stays within that, he is very, very effective for us.”

SIUE jumped out to its 12-3 lead, but NKU countered with a 15-4 run to take an 18-16 advantage. With the game tied at 25-all in the first half, NKU used an 18-4 run to take a 43-29 lead.

---Vincent Humphrey scored 17 points

Steven Wright netted 13 of his game-high 29 points before halftime for NKU. The Norse took a 45-34 lead into the break. SIUE rallied in the second half and took a 57-56 lead on Ty Johnson's jumper with 9:10 left, but Wright scored four points and Humphrey drained a long 3-pointer to give NKU a 63-59 advantage.

Wright later came up with a steal and finished the play with a breakaway dunk to give NKU a 69-64 lead. The senior guard made four free throws in the final 40 seconds to seal the victory for NKU.

For the game, Wright was 13-for-15 at the free-throw line. The 6-3 leaper also added a couple of eye-popping blocks and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds in 37 minutes of action.

“He did a great job tonight. He did everything,” Humphrey said of Wright. “He did a lot of the ball handling, he rebounded, and he shot well. He’s just one of those guys who leads us by example as a senior, and as he went, we went. Steve went well, and we went well.”

NKU finished with a 45-7 advantage in bench points. Anthony Teague drained a pair of key 3-pointers in the first half and had eight points off the bench, while Kevin Schappell added seven points.

Harrison Morton scored six points, and teammate Darral Payton provided the Norse with several clutch plays. The 6-6 junior forward finished with four points, four assists and three rebounds in 17 minutes.

“Darral Payton is a guy who came in and did a great job for us. He really sparked us in the first half because we were having problems scoring,” Bezold said. “I didn’t know if we were going to break double digits at halftime, but Darral came in and helped us really respond. Darral really had two great halves of basketball and was a key in this win.”

Johnson led SIUE (3-3, 1-1 GLVC) with 21 points, and Nick Arth added 16 points. The Cougars shot 52.3 percent from the field, but NKU won the rebounding battle by 10 (31-21) and allowed SIUE just one offensive rebound.

A year ago, SIUE defeated NKU twice, including a 78-74 decision in the GLVC Tournament. The Cougars’ lightning-quick guards caused many problems for the Norse last season, but the addition of Wright more than helped neutralize SIUE’s backcourt on Saturday.

“Overall, it was a great team win,” said Humphrey, who began his NKU career last year by scoring 22 points in an upset of then-No. 6 Findlay. “We came in here and we needed a big win as far as the conference goes. Everyone felt it, and everyone knew it. It was just a great team win.”

NKU will play host to Tiffin in a non-conference game Tuesday at 7 p.m. The first 1,000 fans in attendance for that contest will also receive free Victor E. Viking bobblehead dolls.

After the Tiffin game, NKU will prepare for exams and next be in action Dec. 19 at nationally ranked Findlay.

BOX SCORE