Struggling to find groove

The NKU men’s basketball team fell to Quincy 73-66 on Jan. 4, bringing their season record to 8-5 and their Great Lake Valley Conference record to 1-3.

The Norse entered the holiday break at 6-3 — two of their losses being decided by less than three points but all coming right in a row. After a third straight loss, the Black and Gold seemed to hit stride as they compiled a four-game win streak, surviving two overtime thrillers in the process.

“I’d grade our play so far at a B-minus,” said coach Dave Bezold. “We’ve got a lot kids who are inexperienced, we’ve had a lot of close games and we’ve only pulled out a few of them. The good thing is that we’re getting the experience — the bad thing is we’re getting it very quickly and sometimes it doesn’t work in our favor.”

In a roster that’s made up of mostly underclassmen and transfers, it could be expected for the first half of this season to be a learning one. But at an 8-5 record, are the Norse performing up to expectations or below them?

“Below,” said senior guard Scotty Bibbins. “We’ve hit a lot of adversity losing three starters from last year, but I think we are starting to get back on the right track.”

Bibbins added that a key reason to why the team hasn’t been performing as expected is because the players are still discovering which roles on the team have to be assumed and when.

“A lot of our freshmen have had to grow up quicker than expected and take on larger roles than had originally been planned,” Bibbins said. “So I think the biggest thing that our team has learned is that different people have to step up each night.”

Two of the new players who have made an immediate impact for the Norse are senior transfer standout David Palmer and junior transfer Yan Moukoury. Palmer leads the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging nearly 19 points per game and pulling down almost eight rebounds per game.

“David has contributed a lot for us — his size, his presence and his experience especially,” Bezold said. “Moukoury has been great too. We’ve asked him to be more of a post player than an outside player, which is what he was at Houston, and he’s adjusting to that very well so far.”

The Norse have been without preseason All-American Dustin Maguire since Dec. 5 due to a back injury. Without Maguire in the lineup, the Norse lost one of their most prolific shooters and offensive threats. As a spectator from the sideline, Maguire has had plenty of time to evaluate his team’s play thus far.

“I think our team has improved since the beginning of the season,” Maguire said. “But we’ve still got a ways to go to be able to do the things we want to do in the conference and in the postseason. I know we had some high expectations coming into the season, which have been tough to meet, but hopefully we’ll be exceeding them in not too long.”

So the Norse are still learning. They’ve dealt with the early loss of one of their best players and they’ve experienced winning streaks and losing streaks, but Bezold thinks things are looking up.

“Our team chemistry has been a great thing for us,” he said. “The team unity concept is very important in basketball and they’ve really come together this season. This doesn’t show up on a stat sheet and isn’t always a direct reflection of your record, but we have great practices and they are very coachable — and that means you always have a chance.”

But like any great coach, Bezold still knows there’s plenty of room for improvement and knows where he’d like to see it take place.
“We really need to improve everything — consistency, stopping power, and getting through possessions both offensively and defensively,” Bezold said. “Offensively, we’ve struggled to make perimeter shots. Our shooting percentage has been a lot lower than I expected, so we need to work on taking and making better shots.”

Maguire has also noticed a few things the team needs to work on.

“We really need to be able to improve on having our guards play aggressively and be looking for David inside at the same time,” Maguire said. “At times, we’ve struggled because we’re either aggressively looking for our own opportunities from the perimeter, or on our heels trying to throw the ball into David. There has to be a happy medium in which we are aggressive and looking to feed David at the same time. When we are able to do that we will reach our potential as a team.”

The Norse will return to the Bank of Kentucky Center on Jan. 16 to host Wisconsin-Parkside. Maguire hopes to return from his back injury by the end of this month.

Story by Drew Laskey