Morton (21) goes over Stefan Dunn in the second half of NKU’s
82-68 win over UC-Clermont. Morton scored 16 points and added
four assists as the Norse opened the season with a win in
the John L. Griffin/Lions Club Classic.
Ky. - Northern Kentucky University began the season by knocking
off the defending national champion Friday night, but it was not
an upset. In fact, the Norse's 82-68 victory over UC-Clermont was
exactly the outcome everyone expected.
Defending national champion? Yes to both. The Cougars captured the
United States Collegiate Athletic Association national title last
season and entered Friday night unbeaten (3-0). That mattered little
against NKU, at least early in the game.
NKU made its
first seven shots from the field and jumped out to a 15-0 lead against
the visitors from Cincinnati. A blowout appeared likely after David
McFarland buried a 3-pointer to give the Norse an 18-2 lead less
than four minutes into the game.
on, things came real easy to us. We made some shots and had a lot
of energy. After that, I felt like we really got inconsistent on
both ends of the floor," NKU head coach Dave Bezold said. "Offensively,
we would settle for a quick shot or the first shot that we could
get instead of really working the basket.
defensively we were so sporadic in where we were supposed to be
fundamentally in a scheme. We were fouling, and that led to their
ability to come back and pull to within one point."
The Norse held
a 44-32 halftime lead, but UC-Clermont rallied in the second half
with a 13-2 run to get within 46-45 with 16:29 remaining. NKU countered
with a 9-0 run, capped by a driving layup by Harrison Morton. Dennis
Gagai keyed the spurt with two baskets, and Anthony Teague hit a
3-pointer to begin the run.
cut it to one, we got a big shot out of Anthony Teague to give us
a four-point lead. From there, we just had to buckle back down on
defense because we were letting them penetrate too much," said
NKU senior center Travis Rasso, who scored 12 points and grabbed
five rebounds. "When they were penetrating, they were either
getting to the hole or kicking it back out for a wide-open three.
So buckling down on defense and hitting some big shots when we were
open was huge."
guard Stefan Dunn, who was named the most valuable player at last
season's United States Collegiate Athletic Association national
tournament, led the way for the Cougars with 25 points. Dunn knocked
down five 3-pointers and was 10-for-12 at the free-throw line.
NKU placed four
players in double figures, led by Morton and Gagai with 16 points
apiece. Vincent Humphrey added 13 points and seven rebounds for
NKU, while Rasso scored 12. The Norse (1-0) shot 48.5 percent from
the field and held UC-Clermont (3-1) to 39.3 percent from the field.
Humphrey attempts a shot Friday night against UC-Clermont.
is going to be balanced this year," Rasso said. "We are
going to have guys that can come off the bench and score 15 or so
points. If not then we know our starters are going to score. Our
team is very, very balanced this year."
The Norse finished
11-for-26 from 3-point range and committed just 11 turnovers. Billy
Finnell dished out a game-high eight assists, while McFarland finished
with six assists. As a team, NKU totaled 24 assists on its 32 baskets.
look at our team, we’re almost all guards this year so we
are going to put up some threes," Rasso said. "We also
have to know that when those threes are not going down that we’ll
need to go inside and get some points from there as well. When you
hit shots from underneath, it is going to open up shots outside,
and when you hit your shots from outside, it is going to open up
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. Findlay began
the season Friday by posting a 79-63 win over No. 21 Christian Brothers
in the other first-round game of the John L. Griffin/Lions Club
to play a lot better against Findlay to have any chance, because
they are really good," Bezold said. "Findlay was very
impressive against Christian Brothers, and the fact they beat Ohio
State says it all. Findlay has a great program, they are extremely
well-coached and they know how to win. This is going to be a very
difficult game for us, but you have to play good teams to become
a good team."