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Northern Kentucky Sunk by Last Second Three

Northern Kentucky University lost a heart breaker to Toledo, 57-55, at home on Saturday evening when Toledo guard Julius Brown sank a corner three-pointer with less than a second left to take their only lead of the game.

“That was probably one of the tougher losses we've had to endure because that is a really good team and we had in right in our hands,” Norse head coach Dave Bezold said.

The Norse put together one of their better halves of the season in the first when they held the Rockets to 22 percent shooting from the floor and made it hard for them to find any good looks. NKU freshman Tayler Persons looked to push the pace when he got the ball and forced the larger Toledo team to run with them. It worked well in the early going and Parsons found all kind of ways to get involved, as he had nine points, four assists and three rebounds before halftime.

Aside from a stretch where they were unable to rebound and gave up too many offensive boards, the Norse played nearly flawlessly as they ran out to 34-20 lead at halftime. They had limited their turnovers, shot well enough and forced Toledo into tough shot after tough shot. The starters were good, but both center Jalen Billups and forward Daniel Camps put in quality minutes off of the bench. The tandem teamed up for 10 points and six rebounds in the half.

Billups looks to have become more of a focal point for the Norse as it appeared there were a couple of times in key situations where Coach Bezold looked for his team to get the ball into Billups on the post. Once he had the ball in the paint, Billups was aggressive to the hoop, often being fouled.

Camps provided a spark by flying around the rim on putbacks and moving the ball to help his teammates find open shots on the parameter.

As for Toledo, their only offensive threat was forward J.D. Witherspoon who accounted for half of the Rockets' 20 first half points. For as good as the Norse played in the first half, they were unable to mirror such an effort in the second half

It was hard to discern what allowed Toledo to inch back into the game, but head coach Dave Bezold said it was a combination of things.

“(Toledo) figured out some things they needed to do. Some things weren't working against us in the first half, so they adjusted a little bit and then when we saw that they found something that worked, our adjustments weren't quick enough defensively.”

The Rockets came out of halftime on a 6-0 run that would set the tone of the second half and allow the comeback attempt. It looked like fatigue set in somewhat for the Norse as the shooting dried up and the turnovers started to crop up.

“I thought we had too many turnovers in the second half where we took some things that weren't there. We didn't really see, we just threw it and that cost us in the end," Bezold said.

With under six minutes left and the Norse clinging to a 47-43 lead, Tyler White knocked down a three-pointer and was fouled which he converted to a four-point play. It was a huge lift for NKU, but the Rockets responded.

The Toledo center Nathan Boothe had gone the whole game without scoring a point, but the big man found space with the ball where he back Billups under the rim and was fouled as he made a layup. On the other end Anthony Monaco missed a three. Persons followed that up on the next possession with a turnover and the lead was down to one.

Toledo didn't convert on their end and Monaco came down with a big rebound with a one-point advantage and the ball with under two minutes left. White then followed suit with a huge three from the wing putting NKU up by four with under a minute remaining, but immediately allowed Julius Brown to waltz down the lane for an easy two, making the score 55-53.

Then the last of two breakdowns occurred that sealed the deal against the Norse. The first happened when Witherspoon missed on a free-throw, but two NKU players fought each other on the rebound and bumbled it out of bounds. That allowed the Rockets to get the ball back with 3.2 seconds left and down by one.

“You're just trained and programmed to go get it and they wanted to do the best they could,” Bezold said of the rebounding snafu. “Unfortunately, we just don't have that 6'11'' guy that can go above the six-foot guys.”

The second breakdown occurred when the Norse lost of track of Brown on the inbounds pass as he found himself wide open for the corner three which he knocked down like the clutch senior shooter he's proven to be. Although he only finished with eight points, there were none bigger than the last three. It left the Norse down by two with seven-tenths of a second which was not enough to even get a shot off.

The Norse led the entire game except for the last second.

The loss drops NKU to 6-9 as they gear up for conference play in the A-Sun when they travel to Nashville next Saturday to play Lipscomb in their conference opener.

“Our conference is really good this year and there's a lot of good teams,” sophomore guard and Toledo native Deontae Cole said about heading into conference play. “We just have to be ready to compete on a nightly basis, because you can't slack off in our conference.”

Box Score

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor

Photo via NKU Norse