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Northern Kentucky Wins Season Opener, 81-63

Northern Kentucky is unbeaten, one game into the new season.

The Norse hosted East Tennessee State in Highland Heights on Friay night in a mathc-up between two 2017 NCAA Tournament teams.

NKU celebrated its 2017 Horizon League Tournament championship by unveiling its new banner and handing out mini replicas to the first 1,000 fans at BB&T Arena.

Norse head coach John Brannen said the match-up on Friday looked like one between two playing for the first time this season, calling the play action "erratic". NKU missed its first seven shots.

"There wasn't a lot of continuity offensively," Brannen said after the game. "There were a lot of unforced turnovers, tough shots, balls hitting the side of the backboard, but I thought our guys competed.

"The identity of this team is a defensive basketball team. It's a toughness, it's a team that turns people over. It's a team that harasses you defensively. So, we need to play that identity every day while we're still developing our offensive identity."

On the offensive side, Drew McDonald recorded his seventeenth career double-double, scoring 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Lavone Holland II scored 16 and added 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Carson Williams had 15 points and 6 rebounds.

Despite his strong offensive stats, McDonald echoed his coach's remarks about the team's defensive strengths. "I think you got to see a little bit of what this team is going to be about. We're going to grind it out, we're going to play hard, we're going to play defense," McDonald said. "And if shots aren't falling, we'll fall back on our habits which is our defense and our identity."

The Norse started to pull away late in the first half and early in the second, outscoring ETSU 19 to 2 over a nearly six-minute period.

Northern Kentucky stole the ball 9 times and forced 20 turnovers, holding ETSU to 37 percent shooting from the field.

"I'm excited to get a great win against an unbelievably well-coached team in East Tennessee State, with the understanding that we got a lot to get better at," Brannen said.

Next up, NKU hosts Wilmington College on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher