First Win for Norse as NKU Rolls Over North Carolina A&T
The Northern Kentucky Norse cruised to their first win of the season against North Carolina A&T, 68-55, in their home opener on Wednesday night at the Bank of Kentucky Center. It was head coach Dave Bezold’s 300th game as head coach (overall, he's 182-118).
“I honestly didn’t even know it,” he said. “It means I’m getting old, it means the beard is gray now, but it feels great in the fact that you’re able to do it here. I grew up in Northern Kentucky. To have the opportunity to be here and follow Ken Shields and continue on and coach, it’s a great feeling and I’m very fortunate.”
The Norse came in to the game fresh off of their season-opening road trip through Big 10 country where they lost at Wisconsin and Nebraska before coming home to play the Aggies. NKU head coach Dave Bezold talked after the game how those stiffer opponents made a difference on Wednesday.
“Those games can be really defeating. You have to manage their emotions, you have to manage their confidence after games like that, but we go into them and say no matter what, we’re going to get better. “
The tone was set early as sophomore forward Cole Murray came off the bench and knocked down three quick three-pointers. Murray would set career bests on the evening with 21 points and seven three-pointers.
Thanks to Murray’s hot shooting, the Norse ran out to a quick 15-8 lead and maintained it throughout the rest of the game.
“Cole is a tremendous shooter, but what I was most proud of Cole tonight besides his shooting and making those shots was his rebounds. He played very good defense and that keeps him on the floor as much as shooting because he has to be a threat for us the entire year that way.”
As Murray’s outside shooting soon emerged as the lead narrative of the game, some interesting subplots came into focus as well.
The Norse looked like a deep team against NCAT as guard Todd Johnson also shot well off the bench, especially from the outside, shooting 2-4 beyond the arc in the first half. Big man Jalen Billups was another player not in the starting lineup to give a good night’s contribution as he finished with 13 points, five rebounds and two blocks.
Overall, the bench chipped in 42 points on the evening.
“I learned this a long time ago from my predecessor Ken Shields: Your best team usually isn’t the one you start if you’re going to be good. So to have that productivity sitting there, that is a heck of a luxury."
Another player that stood out for the Norse was freshman Tayler Persons who also had 13 points. Persons is a scrappy player who can play bigger than his size in the post or handle the ball well in transition.
"I thought (Persons) did a number of things for us. Defensively, he did a great job understanding his role in what we needed him to do to shut down the inside and close it up. Offensively, he made some big shots when we weren’t really going well. When they would make a mini-run of four or five points, he would come down and answer," said Bezold.
North Carolina A&T had a hard time getting the ball inside and had to resort to a lot of jump shots which they found difficult, shooting 40 percent from the field. Forward Bruce Beckford flashed some game with his pull up jumper and deceptive length on the defensive end, and led the Aggies with 19 points, but they were simply unable to shoot with the Norse.
NKU plays another home game on Saturday, this time against Ohio Mid-Western at 7pm.
-Story & photos by Bryan Burke, associate editor