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NKU Extends Win Streak to Four

In the previous three contests, Eshaunte Jones had carried Northern Kentucky to its first three-game winning streak as a Division I program by averaging 25.3 points.

On Saturday, Jones received plenty of help from his teammates as Northern Kentucky posted a 70-65 win at South Carolina Upstate. The Norse (8-11 overall, 6-5 Atlantic Sun Conference) placed four players in double figures, led by Jones with 18 points, to extend their winning streak to four.

Chad Jackson added 17 points, Tyler White scored 13 off the bench and Ethan Faulkner netted 10 points for the Norse, who shredded the USC Upstate defense for 56.4 percent shooting from the field. Jones scored 13 points in the first half as Northern Kentucky built a 38-32 lead at the break.

“The way (Jones) has been shooting lately, you expect him to hit anything he puts up, even if he is near midcourt,” Norse head coach Dave Bezold said. “We had balanced scoring in this victory, and that's what you try to get each game. Chad, Tyler and Ethan stepped up and did a great job, and I thought we made big plays to pull it out.”

Jones was attempting to become the first Northern Kentucky player to score at least 25 points in four consecutive games since Derek Fields, who accomplished the feat during the 1988-89 season. The man called “Bear” said he would take a win over points any time.

“This is a team game, and all I try to do is help us win,” Jones said. “My teammates do a great job of getting me in position to score, and in this game they made a number of key plays when we needed it. Four straight wins for us, and it feels great to be playing so well as a team.”

USC Upstate (13-11, 7-4 A-Sun) battled from behind the entire second half and had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds. Trailing 68-65, USC Upstate's Adrian Rodgers launched a 3-point attempt that missed its mark, and Jackson rebounded. Jackson was fouled and converted both free throws to seal the Norse win.

Jackson netted 11 points in the second half and was 7-for-8 from the free-throw line during the final 20 minutes of play. White, the freshman from Lima, Ohio, scored seven points in the second half, including a huge 3-pointer.

“You can see this team developing a rhythm, and they are starting to figure it out,” Bezold said of the Norse's first year in Division I. “No one ever said this was going to be easy, but I think our guys have learned a great deal from playing so many games on the road. It's reaping benefits now.”

Torrey Craig, the defending A-Sun Player of the Year, finished with 13 points on 4-for-12 shooting from the field for the Spartans. It marked the second time this season Northern Kentucky had contained the talented USC Upstate forward.

“Torrey is a very good player, and he does a great deal for his team,” Bezold said. “Our guys have done a good job defending him, and even though they beat us earlier this season, I thought even in that game we did a good job on him.”

Jones, meanwhile, continued his torrid shooting. The senior guard buried a trio of 3-pointers and has connected on 20 treys during the four-game winning streak. Jones was selected as the Atlantic Sun Conference's Player of the Week on Tuesday, and he became the first Norse player in eight years to score at least 25 points in three consecutive games when he poured in 25 against East Tennessee State on Thursday night.

Mike Kelsey also accomplished that feat during the 2004-05 season.

Northern Kentucky plays at Lipscomb on Friday in Nashville, Tenn., at 7 p.m.

NKU Women Also Win

Ellen Holton poured in a career-high 26 points Saturday afternoon to lead Northern Kentucky University to an 81-61 victory at South Carolina Upstate in an Atlantic Sun Conference game.

Holton, a senior post player from Elgin, Ill., netted 15 points in the first half as Northern Kentucky (8-11 overall, 5-5 A-Sun) built a 43-32 lead at the break. She scored 11 of her team's first 16 points as the Norse bolted out to a 16-3 advantage.

Northern Kentucky shot 51.5 percent from the field in the first half and led by as many as 15 points (43-28). Holton was 7-for-10 from the field during the opening 20 minutes, and senior guard Jaimie Hamlet dished out five of her career-high eight assists in the first half.

The Norse led by as many as 24 points in the second half and cruised to their first road victory against an Atlantic Sun Conference opponent. Hamlet added 18 points for Northern Kentucky, which completed the season sweep of USC Upstate (8-13, 4-6 A-Sun).

Holton's previous career-high point total was 23, set against Saint Joseph's (Ind.) on Dec. 1, 2011. She entered Saturday's game averaging just more than six points per contest. Holton's 26 points are the most points scored by a Northern Kentucky player this season, the Norse's first as a Division I program.

Freshman guard Rianna Gayheart finished with 16 points off the bench for the Norse, who are 8-0 this season when leading at halftime. Gayheart, who earlier this season scored a career-high 24 points against USC Upstate, buried a trio of 3-point shots on Saturday and added four rebounds, three assists and three steals.

Brittany Starling led USC Upstate with 15 points. The Spartans shot 39.2 percent from the field, while Northern Kentucky finished at 45.8 percent. The Norse also took advantage of 20 USC Upstate turnovers for a 23-10 edge in points off those miscues.

Northern Kentucky's 81 points marked the best offensive showing of the season, 10 points better than the 71 the Norse scored against UNC Wilmington in December. The Norse also blocked a season-high six shots on Saturday and presented head coach Dawn Plitzuweit with her 125th victory.

Plitzuweit, in her first season with the Norse, collected 117 wins as head coach at Grand Valley State.

Northern Kentucky continues the road trip Monday night at East Tennessee State. That game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

Source: NKU Sports Information

Photo: NKU Sports Information (photo not from USC-Upstate game)