5 in a Row at Home as Norse Beat North Florida, 70-64
Jalen Billups and his Northern Kentucky University teammates held a block party Monday night and handed visiting North Florida its first loss in Atlantic Sun Conference play.
Billups scored 12 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked a career-high five shots as Northern Kentucky posted a 70-64 victory over North Florida in The Bank of Kentucky Center. Jordan Jackson added four blocks and scored 16 points as the Norse won their third consecutive game and improved to 7-9 overall, 3-1 in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
"I wasn't focused on blocking shots going into the game," said Billups, who rejected four shots in the first half. "We want to play solid defense each time we're out there. They brought the ball inside several times and I was able to be in position to get the blocks. I don't know how many (blocks) I had early in the game, but they just kept coming."
Northern Kentucky finished with a total of 12 blocks, two shy of the single-game school record of 14 set against Thomas More on Nov. 23, 1988. The Norse held the Ospreys to 37.5 percent shooting from the field, committed just five turnovers and finished with a 40-28 scoring edge in the paint.
"I thought our guys did a tremendous job of being really solid tonight," said Norse head coach Dave Bezold. "We battled through a lot of foul trouble. The entire time we were really focused, the bench and everyone was really tuned in and that's why we got this win tonight."
Travis Wallace, Dallas Moore and Jalen Nesbitt all scored 15 points for North Florida, which dropped to 9-8 overall, 3-1 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. The Ospreys entered Monday's game tied for first place in the conference standings.
Tyler White scored 12 points and blocked two shots for the Norse. Jake Giesler added 11 points off the bench in 14 minutes of action for Northern Kentucky, which is 3-0 all-time against North Florida. The Norse are now 63-13 all-time in The Bank of Kentucky Center and have won five consecutive home games.
"I can't tell you the last time we had two post players that were so efficient when they catch the basketball, whether it's scoring or being fouled, or whatever," Bezold said of Giesler and Billups. "It's a real luxury in this day and age to have both of them back there. If Jalen gets tired, he needs to come to the bench for a few minutes, he knows we're not going to drop off that much, and vice versa. Both of them have had their moments and been really, really solid."
The Norse built a 35-31 halftime lead as Jackson, who was named the Atlantic Sun Conference Newcomer of the Week earlier in the day, scored eight points. White and Giesler each netted seven points during the first half.
North Florida opened the second half with a 13-4 run to build a 44-39 advantage when Beau Beech drained a 3-pointer with 14:20 remaining. Northern Kentucky countered by scoring the next seven points to take a 46-44 lead on Dean Danos' basket.
Tied at 52-all and 7:52 left, Northern Kentucky used a 7-0 spurt to build a 59-52 lead. Jackson ignited the spurt with five straight points, and Billups capped the run with an inside basket.
North Florida cut the Norse lead to 60-58 with 4:32 remaining, but Giesler scored on a left-handed layup in traffic and on the next possession he tipped home a White miss to put the Norse on top 64-58 with 3:08 left. North Florida never got closer than four the rest of the way.
"Three or four weeks ago, we wouldn't have won that game," said Bezold, whose team has won six of eight games after starting the season 1-7. "As soon as they took the lead, we would have fallen apart, tried to do too much, turned it over and all that stuff, but we just plugged along and found a way to win again."
Northern Kentucky begins a two-game Atlantic Sun Conference road trip Thursday at 7 p.m. by meeting South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg, S.C. The Norse conclude the trip Saturday with a 4 p.m. game at East Tennessee State in Johnson City, Tenn.