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Norse Sweep North Florida in Double-Header at NKU

EDITOR'S NOTE: Thanks to the winners of RCN's drawing for coming and having a good time with us in the Toyota Suite at the Bank of Kentucky Center (courtesy of KY Forward) where we took in both of these grat games. What fun time! Go Nore! -Michael Monks

NKU Men Beat North Florida 72-45

Northern Kentucky's Eshaunte Jones had no idea he was nearing a pair of milestones in the second half Thursday night, but everyone else in The Bank of Kentucky Center seemed to be aware something special was about to happen.

Jones scored a career-high 30 points to lead Northern Kentucky to a 72-45 win over North Florida in an Atlantic Sun Conference game. The senior guard finished 10-for-15 from the field, including six 3-pointers, as the Norse improved to 10-15 overall, 8-9 in the A-Sun.

His final basket of the night, a short jumper from the left block, also gave him 1,000 career points. The crowd of 3,356 gave Jones a standing ovation for the milestone, which included points during a two-year stint at Nebraska and the last two with Northern Kentucky.

“I really don't pay much attention to all the stats, because I just want to win games,” Jones said. “I had no idea I was nearing my career high for points. My teammates found me when I was open and the shots were falling. It's a blessing being able to play at Northern Kentucky, and I have great coaches and teammates who have helped me reach any milestones.”

Coming off the bench Thursday night, Jones netted 14 points in the first half as the Norse took a 34-26 lead into the locker room. Northern Kentucky blew the game open in the second half with a 16-2 run that turned a 39-28 lead into a 55-30 advantage.

Jones scored eight points during the spurt, including a pair of long treys.

“Eshaunte felt it, and you could tell he was on target all night,' NKU head coach Dave Bezold said. “I also thought Ethan Faulkner did a great job of guarding Parker Smith, who is one of the top scorers in our conference. That is twice this year Ethan held Smith below his average.”

Smith, who averages 16.5 points per contest, was held to three points Thursday night. He had scored at least 30 points four times this season, but Faulkner's defensive effort forced Smith into a 1-for-4 shooting night from the floor.

Tyler White added 12 points for the Norse, while Faulkner scored eight points and dished out four assists. Chad Jackson finished with eight points and six rebounds as NKU swept the season series with North Florida (12-18, 7-10 A-Sun).

The Norse also tied a school record with just three turnovers for the entire game. NKU also accomplished that feat on Feb. 7, 2009, against Indianapolis.

“We really make it a point of emphasis to take care of the basketball. Everyone did a great job tonight in that regard,” Bezold said. “We really shot the ball well in the second half, and during our big run I think we scored in every possession.”

The Norse play their home finale at 8 p.m. Saturday against Jacksonville. Northern Kentucky concludes the season March 14 with a non-conference game at the University of San Francisco.

Jones, Faulkner and fellow senior Stretch Watson will be honored prior to Saturday's game with Jacksonville. Watson finished with six rebounds, four points and two steals during Thursday night's victory.

NORSE NOTES: Faulkner moved past Ryan Schrand for 11th place on the school's all-time assists list with 342. Faulkner also passed Vincent Humphrey for 48th place in Norse history with 704 career points.

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NKU Women clinch 30th consecutive winning season

Nothing was going to stop Northern Kentucky University's women from wrapping up a 30th consecutive winning season Thursday night.  

Just ask visiting North Florida, which watched Northern Kentucky jump out to a 23-2 lead en route to a 57-44 victory in The Bank of Kentucky Center. The Norse built the huge advantage and led the entire game to clinch something that few thought possible when they began their first season in Division I with four straight losses: a winning record.

“As coaches, we're more concerned about getting better each game and being prepared for the next opponent, so I never gave it any thought until some of the players started talking about it,” Northern Kentucky head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said of securing the winning record. “It says a great deal about these kids and this program.

“They battled back from a rough start when we scored 31 points against Cincinnati in the opener. We had trouble scoring and Cincinnati is a good defensive team. But our players kept working it, and it's nice to know we were able to keep that streak alive.”

Christine Roush scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Norse, who improved to 14-12 overall, 11-6 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. The freshman guard from Louisville, Ky., buried a trio of 3-pointers in the first half and added two assists as Northern Kentucky extended its streak of winning seasons to 30.

Freshman guard Rianna Gayheart added 13 points, five rebounds and three steals for the Norse, who held North Florida to 14.8 percent shooting in the first half to build a 28-10 lead at the break. The Ospreys started the game 1-for-22 from the field and never recovered.

“These are the kind of games early in the season that we struggled to win, but to our players' credit, they found a way to be much better defensively and be able to pull out games even we are not scoring,” Plitzuweit said. “I thought we had stretches where we had good looks in this game and just missed them. We knew this would be the kind of game that we would have to grit it out, and the players did a good job overall against North Florida's pressure.”

Junior guard Kayla Thacker added eight points and 11 rebounds, the fourth time in the past five games she has finished with at least 10 boards. Thacker pulled down five offensive rebounds and added two steals.

Ellen Holton started the Norse onslaught in the first half with inside baskets that were assisted by Jaimie Hamlet for a 4-0 Northern Kentucky lead. Ki Conner responded with a jumper to make it 4-2, but the Ospreys would go the next 12 minutes without a point as the Norse built a 23-2 bulge.

Destinee Smith scored 16 points to lead North Florida, which finished at 30.8 percent shooting from the field. Conner added 15 points for the Ospreys, who had defeated the Norse earlier this season, 59-55, in Jacksonville, Fla.

Northern Kentucky shot 36.5 percent from the field and won the battle of the boards by one (41-40). The Norse improved to 12-0 this season when leading at halftime and have won eight of their past 10 games.

Northern Kentucky concludes the season Saturday at 5:30 p.m. with a home game against Jacksonville. The Norse's four seniors – Holton, Hamlet, Tiara Hopper and Kelsey Simpson – will also be recognized during Saturday's season finale.

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Source: Northern Kentucky University sports information

Photo: Eshaunte Jones/NKU