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Norse: Men Fall at Home, Women Win on Road

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 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 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 3-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 3-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.

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Women Beat Mercer, 72-64

MACON, Ga. – Kayla Thacker and Kaitlyn Gerrety combined for 36 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists to lead the Northern Kentucky University women's basketball team to a 72-64 victory over Mercer in Atlantic Sun Conference play on Thursday night in Hawkins Arena.

Thacker, the reigning Atlantic Sun Player of the Week, scored a game-high 19 points and grabbed six rebounds to lead the way for NKU, which improved to 12-9 overall and 8-2 in the Atlantic Sun.  She dished out five assists and knocked down five 3-point field goals on the night.

Gerrety finished the night with career highs in points with 17, and assists with five. She also added six rebounds for the Norse.  The junior center from Cincinnati, Ohio, went 8-for-12 from the floor.

"I thought Kayla played really well," NKU head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said.  "She bounced back from starting 1-for-5 from the floor and hit some critical shots for us tonight.  Kaitlyn played one heck of a game.  She really got after it on both ends of the floor, and she neutralized their post players on the glass."

With the score tied at 8-all, NKU used a 13-2 run to take a 21-10 lead midway through the first half.  The Norse stretched their lead to 13 (29-16) with just over five minutes remaining, but Mercer pulled to within 31-25 courtesy of a 9-2 spurt with 2:26 left on the clock.

Rianna Gayheart responded with her third 3-point shot of the half to stretch the lead back to nine, but the Norse took a 34-30 advantage into the break after a layup by Precious Bridges and a 3-pointer by Kendra Grant at the buzzer.

NKU shot 50 percent from the floor and went 8-for 17 from long range in the opening 20 minutes for the halftime advantage.

Mercer, which fell to 11-10 on the year and 4-6 in the conference, opened the half with a 6-2 run, led by Sharnea Boykins' four points, to tie the game at 36 with 16:53 left.  The teams traded baskets over the next 10 minutes until NKU scored eight straight points to take a 66-56 advantage with 6:27 remaining on the clock.

Gerrety stopped an 8-0 Bears run with a layup to give the Norse a 68-64 advantage with one minute left to play, and Lauren White hit four clutch three throws in the final 30 seconds to seal the victory.

"I thought our players are starting to really play with the energy level they need to play with," Plitzuweit said.  "In the second half, there were some stretches where we did not get stops.  At crunch time, if we can string together two or three possessions at the end of the game, it puts us in a good position to be successful.  And, I thought we were able to do that tonight."

The Norse won the rebounding battle by a 32-29 margin to remain undefeated on the year when outrebounding the opponent.  NKU finished the night shooting 48.2 percent from the floor and 14-for-31 from behind the 3-point arc, which fell one shy of the school record of 15 set against Southern Indiana on Jan. 18, 2003.

White finished with 13 points, five rebounds and four assists off the bench for NKU, while Melody Doss contributed 10 points, five rebounds and a career-high six assists as the Norse collected 24 assists as a team on just 27 made field goals.

Brianna Williams led the way for Mercer, which shot 50 percent from the field for the game, with 17 points and six assists.  Grant poured in 15 points and grabbed five rebounds as Boykin pulled down a team-high six rebounds, dished out a game-high nine assists and scored eight points on the night.

With the win, NKU improved to 3-1 in the all-time series between the two programs and completed the season sweep of the Bears.  The Norse also reached the 70-point threshold to remain unbeaten (8-0) on the year when scoring at least 70 points.

NKU looks to complete the season sweep of Kennesaw State Saturday at the KSU Convocation Center in Kennesaw, Ga.  The game is set to begin at 2 p.m.  Links to live stats, the ESPN3 broadcast and Andrew Kappes' webcast will be available at nkunorse.com.

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From NKUnorse.com