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Men, Women Victorious in NKU's First D-I Homecoming

Having been toughened up by a season-opening road schedule that covered more than 10,000 miles, Northern Kentucky is now taking advantage of playing at home in big-time fashion.

The Norse won their third consecutive home game Saturday night with a 64-53 victory against Kennesaw State. Northern Kentucky (6-11 overall, 4-5 Atlantic Sun Conference) held the visiting Owls to 36 percent shooting from the field, won the rebounding battle by a 37-28 count and rode the scoring prowess of Eshaunte Jones in front of a Homecoming crowd of 4,716 in The Bank of Kentucky Center.

Jones continued his torrid shooting by scoring 25 points against Kennesaw State. The 6-foot-4 senior guard netted a career-high 26 points two nights earlier during a 63-46 win over Mercer, and he made four 3-pointers against Kennesaw State. Jones also dished out three assists.

“He is playing very well right now, and Bear is doing a number of good things you don't always see on a stat sheet,” NKU head coach Dave Bezold said. “He's knocking down shots, grabbing some rebounds and playing good defense as well. All of our seniors have stepped up this season, and that's been a key with so many freshmen playing.”

One of those freshmen, Tyler White, added 13 points off the bench for the Norse. White buried a pair of 3-pointers and finished 5-for-6 from the field.

Chad Jackson scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds. He also provided the highlight of the evening by grabbing an offensive rebound of a Jones missed jumper and jamming the ball in with two hands over two Kennesaw State defenders.

“Was that a great dunk, or what? That was an awesome athletic play by Chad. One of the best I've seen here,” Bezold said.

Stretch Watson grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds for NKU, which is now 2-0 all-time against Kennesaw State (2-19 overall, 1-8 A-Sun). Watson also blocked three shots and collected three steals. He is one of three seniors who are leading the Norse in their first season of Division I competition.

“(Assistant) coach Darris Nichols tells (the three seniors) to smell the popcorn, and enjoy every moment out there this season,” Watson said. “By us not being able to go to the conference tournament, we just want to win and have fun.

"We are in Division I, traveled from the west (coast) to the east (coast), and there is no pressure on us. Just enjoy it. This is our last year. After this, we will just have 'The Wish; I wish I was back'.”

NKU improved to 56-9 all-time in The Bank of Kentucky Center. The Norse started the season with 10 consecutive games away from home, and did not play in The Bank of Kentucky Center until Jan. 5.

“This team is very resilient, and they are 6-5 since the game against Ohio State,” Bezold said. “We are on a pretty good run right now, and guys like Stretch, Ethan (Faulkner) and Bear are leading this team the way you like to see seniors do it. They control the locker room, show the young guys how to play, and it's a great bunch of players to be around.”

NKU hits the road for a Thursday night game at East Tennessee State. The game is set for 7 p.m. in Johnson City, Tenn.

Earlier this month, East Tennessee State pulled out a 49-44 win over NKU in The Bank of Kentucky Center.

NORSE NOTES: Chad Jackson's two-handed dunk of an offensive rebound made ESPN's Top 10 Plays on Sportscenter Saturday night. It marked the first time an NKU athlete has been featured on ESPN's Top 10 Plays…Eshaunte Jones averaged 25.5 points per game and buried 10 shots from 3-point range during NKU's two wins this week...Stretch Watson's 12 boards surpassed his previous career-high rebounding total of 10, which he had done twice.

Women win 65-49

 Kayla Thacker scored 16 points while teammates Tiara Hopper and Christine Roush each added 11 as the Northern Kentucky University women's basketball team rolled to a 65-49 victory over Kennesaw State at The Bank of Kentucky Center on Saturday.

Hopper also grabbed seven rebounds for NKU, which improved to 7-10 overall, 4-4 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Rianna Gayheart dished out a game-high six assists for the Norse.

NKU held an 11-7 advantage with 13:39 remaining in the first half and used a 25-5 run to close out the half to take a 37-11 lead at the break.  Thacker hit a 3-point shot to spark the run, and Jaimie Hamlet capped it with a conventional three-point play.

The Norse limited the Owls to 19.2 percent shooting from the field and 11.1 percent from behind the arc in the first half.

Kennesaw State (4-16 overall, 0-8 A-Sun) battled back in the second half by knocking down six shots from 3-point range. NKU, however, used a 16-2 edge in points off turnovers and a 28-14 advantage in points in the paint to collect the victory in the first meeting between the two programs in women's basketball.

“I thought our kids came out of the gate and played great defensively, and we put ourselves in a position to build on,” NKU head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said.  “We didn't quite have the same intensity, and at the same time Kennesaw made some shots in the second half that they missed in the first half.  But, I thought that our kids did a great job from the very beginning of the game today.”

The Norse forced 16 turnovers while only committing six of their own.  NKU collected seven steals, including three from Melody Doss, and shot 38.7 percent from the floor.  The two teams finished even in the rebounding battle at 38-all.

NKU is now 58-8 all-time in the Bank of Kentucky Center, including a 6-1 mark this season.  The Norse have not dropped an A-Sun contest at home this season.

Ellen Holton added nine points for NKU, which is 7-0 this season when leading at the half. Jaimie Hamlet and Doss each finished with eight points for the Norse.

Sametria Gideon scored 10 of her team-high 12 points in the second half to lead the Owls.  She also grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds.  Ashley Holliday added 12 points, while Chelsea Mason scored 11 for Kennesaw State.

NKU returns to action on Monday night as the Norse welcome Mercer to The Bank of Kentucky Center at 7 p.m.

Source: NKU Sport Information

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