---NKU’s Billy Finnell attempts a jumper against Cincinnati during an exhibition game on Oct. 31. Finnell, a junior guard, dished out a team-leading 123 assists last season as NKU posted a 24-9 record and advanced to the championship game of the NCAA II Great Lakes Regional.

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. - The Northern Kentucky University men’s basketball team begins the season Friday at 7:45 p.m. by hosting UC-Clermont in the 26th annual John L. Griffin/Lions Club Classic.

On Saturday at 7:45 p.m., NKU will take on Findlay in a much-anticipated rematch of last season’s NCAA Division II Great Lakes Region semifinal game that the Norse won by a 60-56 score at Findlay, Ohio. NKU snapped Findlay’s home winning streak at 59 games with that victory.

The Oilers - who knocked off Ohio State in an exhibition game last week - are ranked No. 5 nationally in the NCAA Division II poll.

Both games can be heard live on the Internet at www.nkunorse.com or on the radio on WIOK-FM (107.5).

NKU returns three starters from last season’s 24-9 team that advanced to the NCAA Division II Great Lakes Region Tournament championship game. The Norse are picked to finish second in the Great Lakes Valley Conference East Division preseason poll.

NKU must replace GLVC Player of the Year Steven Wright, who averaged 16.8 points per game last season. Wright also became the first men’s basketball player in Norse history to earn first team All-America honors.

Junior guard Billy Finnell returns to the NKU lineup after averaging 7.5 ppg. Finnell, a graduate of Purcell Marian High School in Cincinnati, dished out a team-leading 123 assists last season. NKU also welcomes back senior forwards Vincent Humphrey and Harrison Morton. Humphrey averaged 7.5 ppg last season, while Morton scored 6.0 ppg.

Shooting guard Mark Hawkins (4.1 ppg), defensive standout David McFarland, point guard Scott Bibbins and center Travis Rasso also return for NKU, which won the GLVC East championship last season with a 13-6 record. Hawkins is a 3-point shooting machine who knocked down 26 treys last season.

McFarland, a tenacious defender and intense competitor, usually draws the toughest defensive assignment for the Norse. Bibbins played in six games before suffering a season-ending injury and was granted a medical redshirt. Rasso, a 6-foot-8 senior, averaged 3.3 points per game.

---NKU’s Scott Bibbins drives past Deonta Vaughn of Cincinnati during an exhibition game on Oct. 31 in Fifth Third Arena.

THE HAWK SOARS AGAINST UC: NKU senior guard Mark Hawkins buried seven 3-pointers against the University of Cincinnati on Oct. 31 in an exhibition game. Hawkins, a graduate of Finneytown High School, finished with 21 points against the Bearcats during NKU’s 76-71 loss.

NKU IMPRESSIVE IN SETBACK: NKU made 16 shots from 3-point range against Cincinnati and was down just two points (70-68) in the closing seconds. Cincinnati, though, hit six free throws down the stretch to escape with a 76-71 victory.

The Norse connected on six 3-point shots in the opening six minutes of the game to build a 22-7 lead. Harrison Morton capped the early NKU run with a driving layup.

UC eventually caught NKU and later took a 63-56 lead when Rashad Bishop nailed a 3-pointer with 5:41 remaining in the game. NKU, though, responded with an 8-2 run to make it 65-64 with 3:13 left. Hawkins capped the spurt by burying a long 3-pointer.

Deonta Vaughn countered by making a 3-pointer and finishing off a break with a basket to make it 70-64. Hawkins later hit another 3-pointer to bring NKU within 70-68 with 34 seconds remaining, but UC made its free throws and improved to 7-0 against NKU in exhibition games.

ABOUT UC-CLERMONT: The Cougars are the defending national champions of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association. UC-Clermont features guard Stefan Dunn, who was named most valuable player of the USCAA Tournament after scoring 24 points in the national championship game last season.

THE LAST TIME AGAINST UC-CLERMONT: On Dec. 23, 2006, NKU rolled to a 94-58 win over UC-Clermont in Regents Hall. Kevin Schappell scored 18 points for the Norse, and Steven Wright added 17.