Seasons close for NKU Men, Women

While most students at Northern Kentucky University were enjoying spring break, 14 NKU students were hard at work on the basketball court.

Although March Madness at the Division I level has just begun, the NKU Men’s Basketball Team began its post-season three weeks prior, and had a great run in doing so.

NKU entered the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country. The Norse won eight of their last 10 games, having its first 20-win season in four years, the GLVC East regular season champs, and toting the GLVC Player of the Year Steven Wright.

The Norse’s momentum continued to propel NKU as it rolled through its first two tournament games, posting victories over Rockhurst in the quarterfinals, and avenging an earlier regular season loss to Drury University as NKU posted a 69-62 win over the Panthers in the semis. The Norse advanced to the championship game where it ran into rival University of Southern Indiana.

The Screaming Eagles have had the Norse’s number winning six of the last seven games dating back to the 2003-04 season. In a gritty typical conference championship game, the Eagles continued their winning ways escaping with a hard fought 63-61 victory. Steven Wright and Anthony Teague earned All-Tournament honors, and the Norse closed the book on the GLVC season, or so it would appear.

NKU earned its first NCAA Division II Tournament berth since the 2002-03 season. The No. 4 seeded Norse faced No. 5 Drury in the first round of the Great Lakes Regional Tournament.

Norse Head Coach Dave Bezold was worried how his team would fare in its first game after the tough loss against USI, but as the ball was tipped his team made him think otherwise.

NKU shook off the loss and jumped out to an early 20-11 lead after nine minutes. The Norse trailed at the half. Drury went on a 14-0 run in the next five minutes, and shot 60.9 percent for the half en route to a 33-31 lead. The second half was a different story for the Norse as it had the hot-hand shooting close to 53 percent with Wright, leading the way in the second half scoring 18 points. He teamed up with Teague to combine for 45 points to help push NKU with a 73-68 win and a trip to the Second Round.

The Second Round proved to be much more of a test for the Norse, who ran into three very tough opponents; the host team Findlay Oilers, its 2,000 fans, and its 59-game home winning streak.

The 59-game streak was the nation’s longest in the NCAA’s, according to NKU Athletics, and would once again prove to be a tough task for the Norse, who dropped 59-53 to the Oilers Dec. 19 in which the crowd helped propel Findlay to a comeback.

Although at times it looked as if the overall atmosphere would be too much for yet another visiting team to overcome, NKU pushed through the adversity. The Norse clamped down defensively in the second half holding the Oilers to only 37.9 percent shooting, while shooting close to 60 percent. In a game that was virtually equal in every aspect statistically, the persistence of NKU was the determining factor for the Norse, who, with free throws by guard Vincent Humphrey, ended the game and the 59-game winning streak with a 60-56 win and a trip to the Regional Finals where they faced Grand Valley State University.

With a trip to Springfield, Mass., and the Elite Eight on the line, the hot shooting Norse went ice cold against the Lakers. NKU quickly fell behind 10-2 and shot just 26.9 percent for the first half, but managed to climb back within six points at the half as Grand Valley led 28-22.

The Lakers did a good job to open the second half to create offensive problems for NKU by consistently changing its defenses. Throughout the half, Grand Valley switched back and forth from match-up zones to tight full-court man-to-man defense, which in turn took the Norse out of the offensive rhythm it had through the previous two games. The Lakers also managed to shut down the Norse’s two leading scorers in the tournament, Wright and Teague, holding the two to a combined 7-27 shooting.

NKU ultimately shot a dismal 18.9 percent in the half, which included 1-of-17 shooting from behind the three-point line, en route to a 66-42 loss, where it would shoot 22 percent for the game.

The Norse ended the season with a 24-9 record, and said farewell to an outstanding senior class. In classic fashion, Bezold gave his seniors their final applause from the fans.

Wright, Teague, James Cripe, and Kevin Schappell were each subbed out, and took their last walk to the bench where they were acknowledged by the fans, coaches and teammates.

As he fouled out of the game with two minutes remaining, an emotional Schappell made his way to the bench for his final time, tears running down his eyes. This marked the end to his career with the Norse, which unlike the rest of his fellow seniors, began six years ago after signing with the Norse before his senior year of high school. As Bezold embraced the senior in a hug at mid-court, Schappell’s emotions carried over to the NKU faithful in attendance as his applause grew louder, more tears began to flow. He will depart the Norse to take a new position in the game of basketball, as he joins Bob Huggins’ coaching staff next season at Kansas State University.

The Norse now look toward the future, but will have a hard time replacing the departing seniors. In particular, NKU will be hard pressed to find a replacement for Wright.

The GLVC Player of the Year led the Norse in scoring, rebounding, and minutes played. Wright, in addition to GLVC POY, also earned a spot on the All-Great Lakes Region first team from Daktronics, Inc., and was selected to play in the NABC/NCAA Division II All-Star Game on March 23 at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.