Northern Kentucky Beats Jacksonville, 4 Norse in Double Figures
Northern Kentucky University vanquished Jacksonville at home on Saturday afternoon, 81-59, to win their third game in four tries within the Atlantic Sun Conference and redeemed themselves after a tough loss earlier in the week to North Florida. It was a balanced effort from the Norse who featured strong bench play throughout both halves of the contest.
“I was really proud of our guys today. I thought it was a tremendous bounce-back after playing a tough game on Thursday night,” head coach Dave Bezold said. “To be able to come back play as well as we did today, was really satisfying.”
NKU came out of the gates hot shooting well and knocking down three-pointers early on to establish a lead they would keep throughout the half. Coach Bezold enjoyed some nice bench play from center Jalen Billups who looked assertive on the offensive end scoring on good looks underneath. Billups finished the half with eight points making all four of his shots from the floor.
Guard Todd Johnson also provided a spark, mainly on the defensive end with steals and overall scrappy play. When he found a streaking Jake Geisler downcourt on the break after a steal, Geisler managed an easy lay-up giving the Norse their biggest lead of the half at 36-22.
For Jacksonville, they were powered by two players that made up the majority of their team's scoring before the half. Forward Josh Adeyeye swished three shots from beyond the arc, giving him 11 points, while guard J.R. Holder led the Dolphins with 12. Only three other players scored in the first half for Jacksonville.
The Norse found outside shooting space against the 2-3 zone the Dolphins showed and they took advantage with consistent three-point shooting. Their quality shooting combined with energetic parameter defense that led to seven Jacksonville turnovers allowed the Norse to open up the game toward the end of the first half. Norse guard Deontae Cole led the way for Coach Bezold's team with nine points and three shots from deep.
Guard Chad Jackson also played his typical all-around game, racking up eight points and five rebounds. Jackson is not the biggest player, but he has a knack for finding the inside position when rebounding and stays in control througout the game.
“To be honest I think I am a quick leaper, I have a quick double jump,” Jackson said of the reason why he is such a good rebounder. “When I get rebounds on my own misses, I know when I'm going to miss so I go right back up. I think it might be being in the right place at the right time.”
“I think Chad Jackson has really elevated his level of production offensively and his energy and the things he's doing for us right now is what you want as a coach for seniors to do,” Bezold said of his arguably his best player. “He's provided so much leadership, I'm really happy with where we are right now.”
The second half was even better for the Norse as their bench players continued to flourish. Billups grew increasingly comfortable on the blocks, showcasing a polished turnaround baby hook and proved to be a load inside for the opposing big men.
“I've been practicing it pretty much the whole year and being a little bit more aggressive than I was previously,” Billups said of his turnaround in the post. “Just more confident down low.”
Not only did he convert when given the ball in the post, but he also stayed out of foul trouble which he said allowed him to play aggressive on both ends. On the defensive side he had a monster block down the stretch that sent a statement to the Jacksonville players that the paint is not a safe place to get shots off.
Coach Bezold talked after the game about the strides that Billups has made physically since last year when his future with the team was in question.
“Last year he wasn't in very good shape,” Bezold said of Billups. “He had a lot of things floating in his brain about his physical condition. It was difficult and we talked about it at the end of the season whether he was going to continue to play because of that. Then he took a little more time to get his legs under him this year and raise his confidence level and he's just done a tremendous job. This is a fantastic young man who is here all day long and works, whether it be in the weight room or whatever, but he's reaping the benefits of everything he's done.”
Todd Johnson also continued to excel in the second half, finishing the game with five steals and taking advantage of matching up with a larger, more powerful point guard in Kory Babineaux. Johnson was not looked for scoring, but his scrappy defense made his coach happy. When he was stole the ball and was intentionally fouled, his free-throws put the Norse up by 15 points and put his team in position for the win.
NKU featured a balanced attack with four players reaching double figures. Freshman guard Tayler Persons ended up as the high man with 18 points thanks to a quality second half that shook him free of a shooting funk that he had suffered through the previous two games. Billups finished with 17, Chad Jackson had 15 and Tyler White had 13.
“Tyler White played tremendous defense today,” Bezold said.
The win comes after a tough home loss earlier in the week when the Norse fell to North Florida at home. NKU (9-11) has won three out of their last four in the Atlantic Sun Conference and will travel to Florida to play Stetson University on Thursday, January 29.
Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor
Photo via NKU