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NKU Rallies for Win in Front of Record Crowd at BOK Center

From NKU Sports Information:

If you were one of those fans who decided to leave a bit early Saturday night, when Jacksonville owned a 58-45 lead over Northern Kentucky with less than three minutes left in the game, Norse head coach Dave Bezold isn't upset with you. Not really.

In fact, he was just about ready to call it a night, too. Instead, Bezold applied full-court pressure against the visiting Dolphins, and the result was one of the most incredible come-from-behind victories in Northern Kentucky history.

Northern Kentucky rallied from that 13-point deficit in the final 2:36 of the game to post a 66-62 win over Jacksonville in front of a record-crowd of 6,719 in The Bank of Kentucky Center. It was the biggest crowd to ever watch a regular-season college basketball game in the facility, which opened in 2008.

But what was Bezold thinking with three minutes remaining?

“A: I'm very upset that people are walking out of our gym already.  B: I don't want it to get to 20 (point defeat) for our seniors, so when do we stop fouling? And then, C: Who is coming out of the game first so they can get their recognition?” Bezold said. “But every timeout, we just kept believing and thought let's just get one good thing to happen.  You just never know, and then all of a sudden it did.  For everything to just seem to go the wrong way for 37 minutes, it's unbelievable.”

Down by 13 points with 2:36 left on the clock, Northern Kentucky applied full-court pressure and forced six turnovers to ignite a game-ending 21-4 run. Freshman guard Todd Johnson began the Norse rally with a 3-pointer while being fouled. He converted the free throw with 2:09 remaining to make it a 58-49 game.

A steal by Johnson on the Jacksonville inbounds pass led to a layup by Tyler White, cutting the Jacksonville lead to 58-51. Another Jacksonville turnover and a dunk by Ernest Watson brought the Norse to within five points (58-53), and when Johnson made a pair of free throws with 1:03 on the clock, Northern Kentucky had sliced the deficit to 58-55, and it was a one-possession game.

“I had not planned on pressing, but we ended up doing it out of necessity,” Bezold said. “We pressed them late in the game down at their place and caused a turnover that led to the tying basket. Tonight, we forced several turnovers in the final two minutes, and it all happened after we applied the press.”

After Jacksonville made three free throws in the next eight seconds, a layup by Chad Jackson and a 3-pointer by Ethan Faulkner cut the Dolphin lead to 61-60 with 40 seconds left. Another turnover by Jacksonville gave the Norse a chance to take the lead, but Eshaunte Jones missed a 3-point attempt from the left side.

Anthony Monaco, however, was fouled inside by Jacksonville's Jarvis Haywood while going for the rebound of Jones' miss with 20 seconds left. Monaco made both free throws to give Northern Kentucky a 62-61 lead.

“Here is a guy who has shot very few free throws all season, and he steps up and hits all net on both with us trailing by a point and a few seconds left. That took courage, and I was really happy for him,” Bezold said.

Johnson forced another Jacksonville turnover with a steal in the closing seconds, and Jackson added two free throws to extend the Norse lead to 64-61. Following a Norse timeout, Jacksonville's Russell Powell dribbled across midcourt and appeared to be fouled by Johnson before he could get a shot off with 2.4 seconds left. Powell, though, was ruled in the act of shooting and was awarded three free throws and a chance to tie the game.

Powell, though, missed the first free-throw attempt, made the second and was called for stepping over the line while intentionally missing the third shot. Jones sealed the win by making two free throws.

Northern Kentucky improved to 11-15 overall, 9-9 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Jackson led the Norse with 19 points, and he also grabbed eight rebounds. Watson hauled in 11 rebounds and dished out four assists, while Faulkner added 12 points and five assists. Despite being closely guarded by Jacksonville defenders all night, Jones scored nine points and upped his career total to 1,009.

Keith McDougal scored 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead Jacksonville, which dropped to 14-17 overall, 9-9 in the A-Sun. Jarvis Haywood added 11 points for the Dolphins, while teammate Javon Dawson pulled down 10 rebounds and scored nine points.

Northern Kentucky turned the ball over five times, compared to 19 by Jacksonville. The Norse finished with a 23-2 edge in points off turnovers.

Northern Kentucky concludes the regular season March 14 with a non-conference game at San Francisco.

NORSE NOTES: The previous record for largest regular-season crowd in The Bank of Kentucky Center to watch a Northern Kentucky basketball game was 5,319 on Jan. 23, 2010, when Bellarmine visited The Bank of Kentucky Center. On Nov. 8, 2008, a crowd of 8,408 was in attendance to see Louisville play Northern Kentucky in an exhibition doubleheader, the first college basketball to be played in the facility . . . Northern Kentucky's rally from a 13-point deficit is its largest comeback win of the season. The Norse trailed by nine points at Navy in the first half earlier this season before rallying for a 55-46 victory.

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NKU Women Rally for Overtime Win

The night belonged to the seniors on the Northern Kentucky University women's basketball team, but it was a freshman who stole the show – and a potential Jacksonville victory - during overtime on Saturday night.

Freshman guard Rianna Gayheart scored six points in overtime as Northern Kentucky pulled out a 76-71 win over visiting Jacksonville. Gayheart finished with 13 points, six rebounds and five assists as NKU finished its first Division I season with a 15-12 overall record. The Norse closed out Atlantic Sun Conference play with a 12-6 record, which placed them fourth in the final league standings.

Tiara Hopper, who finished with 12 points and a career-high 17 rebounds in her final game, gave NKU a 68-66 lead early in the overtime with an inside basket off an assist from Gayheart. After a steal by Christine Roush, Gayheart took her defender off the dribble down the right side of the lane and hit a driving layup to extend the Norse advantage to 70-66.

Britney Holliday countered with five straight points to give Jacksonville a 71-70 lead with 2:39 left on the clock, but Gayheart answered with an acrobatic driving layup to put NKU ahead 72-71 at the 2:22 mark.

Hopper made a pair of free throws with 1:19 remaining to extend the Norse lead to 74-71, and Gayheart sealed the win with another basket with 13 seconds left.

"It was an incredible win for our kids, and what an effort to be able to send our seniors out with a victory in their final game," NKU head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said. "Tiara Hopper and Ellen Holton made a number of big plays, and Rianna was clutch in the overtime."

Roush and Holton each added 16 points for NKU, while teammate Kayla Thacker finished with 10 points. Roush added five rebounds two steals and two assists.

Holton's basket in the closing seconds of regulation tied the game, and the Norse survived a last-second attempt by Queen Alford to force the overtime.

“A big play by a senior, and then we were able to avoid fouling (Alford) on that final play in regulation, even though she penetrated into the lane deeper than we probably would have wanted,” Plitzuweit said. “Sometimes you just have to get lucky, and that was one of those times.  They are a great team and they have been playing really well going into the tournament.  Their perimeter kids were really a tough matchup for us.”

Holliday led Jacksonville with 23 points, and Alford added 13 points. The Dolphins were just 2-for-9 from the field in overtime, while NKU shot 4-for-6 from the field in the extra session to avenge a loss at Jacksonville on Dec. 31.

Jacksonville owned a four-game winning streak going into Saturday's contest. The Dolphins won the rebounding battle by a 48-43 count but made just 38.6 percent of their shots from the field.

Northern Kentucky shot 41.1 percent from the field and finished with seven blocks, as Holton and Thacker each had two rejections. It marked the first overtime game of the season for the Norse, who remained perfect (13-0) when leading at halftime.

“To our players' credit, the last three games we were successful because our defense was solid. Tonight, our defense wasn't as solid, but our offense was able to carry us,” Plitzuweit said. “This group has really found a way to win.  I don't know that it looked very promising the last minute of regulation, but they kept their composure and stayed together, and they played with a level of toughness and togetherness that has really been their signature as the year has gone on.”

In addition to Holton and Hopper, fellow seniors Jaimie Hamlet, Kelsey Simpson and student manager Ben Franzen were honored in pregame festivities. Hamlet finished her career with 99 3-point field goals, which is tied for eighth all-time in school history. Simpson received a start Saturday and grabbed two rebounds in her final game.

“What a great way for our seniors to go out.  We couldn't ask for a better way for them to cap off the season,” Plitzuweit said. “I was really, really proud.  I was proud of all of our kids but especially our four seniors, who were our leaders all season.”

Photo via NKU Sports Information