Florida Gulf Coast Holds Off NKU, but Norse Make ESPN Top 10 for 2nd Time in Week
Bernard Thompson scored 17 points and made two free throws in the closing seconds as Florida Gulf Coast held on for a 60-56 victory over Northern Kentucky on Monday night in the Atlantic Sun Conference opener for both teams.
Thompson also grabbed five rebounds for Florida Gulf Coast, which evened its record at 7-7 in front of a crowd of 4,534 in Alico Arena. Chase Fieler added 14 points and nine rebounds for the Eagles, who rallied from a 39-35 deficit with less than 14 minutes left and improved to 3-0 all-time against the Norse.
"Florida Gulf Coast is a very good team and made some big plays, but we had our chances," Norse head coach Dave Bezold said. "We had a four-point lead in the second half, but we turned the ball over 15 times in this game and missed some makeable shots. We outrebounded them by 11 (41-30), but they hurt us a couple of times in transition and made free throws at the end."
Cole Murray, who finished with a team-high 12 points off the bench, drained a trio of 3-pointers in the first half as Northern Kentucky battled back from an early 14-5 deficit and closed to within a basket (28-26) at the break. Deontae Cole also keyed the Norse rally by burying a pair of 3-pointers in the first half.
"Those two freshmen hit big shots in the first half to get us going," Bezold said. "We then started off very well in the second half."
Northern Kentucky opened the second half with an 11-5 run and took a 37-33 lead on Jordan Jackson's spectacular fast-break dunk with 15:55 remaining. The Norse still owned a 39-35 advantage with 13:49 left after Jalen Billups scored inside.
Fieler and Filip Cvjeticanin, however, responded with back-to-back 3-pointers to give Florida Gulf Coast a 41-39 lead. The Eagles eventually built a 57-51 edge on a Thompson basket with less than four minutes remaining, but the Norse responded and pulled to within three points (57-54) when Jackson made a pair of free throws with 1:42 left.
Jamail Jones missed a dunk on Florida Gulf Coast's next possession, giving the Norse an opportunity with less than a minute left on the clock. Todd Johnson attempted a 3-pointer that could have tied the game, but the shot rimmed out and was rebounded by Brett Comer.
Comer drew a foul and made one of two free throws to extend the FGCU lead to 58-54. Thompson later iced the game by connecting on two free throws with 10.6 seconds remaining.
Jackson scored nine points for Northern Kentucky, which is 4-9 overall, 0-1 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Jackson, the Norse's leading scorer, played just three minutes in the first half after picking up two quick fouls.
Billups added eight points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots for the Norse, who made 36.8 percent of their attempts from the field. Johnson finished with seven points, nine rebounds and a career-high five assists. Daniel Camps netted seven points, including a highlight-reel dunk in the first half over two FGCU defenders. Camps' dunk later received national recognition on ESPN SportsCenter's "Top 10 Plays" at No. 5.
It's the second time in just four days that NKU made the SportsCenter Top 10. Jalen Billups' monster dunk in a loss at North Carolina also made the rounds.
Northern Kentucky concludes the road trip Wednesday with a 7 p.m. contest against Stetson in DeLand, Fla.