Pumas pounce on the Norse

David Palmer’s missed jumper and Chris Knight’s rebound and missed tip attempt at the buzzer against St. Joseph’s College exemplified just how much of a struggle it can be to win on the road in the Great Lakes Valley Conference.

With NKU trailing 57-56, Palmer got a good look at the turnaround shot but just missed. Knight’s heroic effort bounced off the rim and sent NKU to its eighth loss in GLVC play – five of which have been on the road. The weekend trip wasn’t for naught as NKU (11-10, 4-8 GLVC) did manage to defeat the University of Illinois-Springfield 59-53 on Jan. 28 behind the play of freshman guard Ethan Faulkner.

Faulkner, a graduate of Elliott County High School in Sandy Hook, Ky., scored a career-high 16 points on 3-for-4 shooting, including a perfect 2-for-2 from behind the arc, on his way to being named NKU Men’s Athlete of the Week on the Norse Athletics Web site. NKU’s two wins on the road in GLVC play have come against UIS and Maryville (Mo.) College – both first-year members in the GLVC and are currently transitioning to the NCAA Division II level.

In a fairly low-scoring first half, NKU held the Prairie Stars to just 25.9 percent from the field. The Norse took a 19-8 lead with 6:49 remaining in the first half on a Corey Sorrell layup before withstanding a UIS run that cut the lead to 24-21 at the break.

The second half saw the Norse build a 12-point advantage when they opened the half on a 16-7 run. Faulkner amassed seven of his 16 points during the spurt. Yan Moukoury, a junior forward from Baton Rouge, La., made a layup with 4:09 remaining to give NKU a 51-41 advantage. That basket would prove to be the last field goal for the Norse, but they converted eight of twelve free throws down the stretch.

Against St. Joseph’s, NKU was led by Palmer’s 16 points and nine rebounds, but the Norse didn’t have an answer for SJC’s Andrew Helmer in the latter portion of the game.

Helmer led the Pumas (13- 7, 9-5 GLVC) with 20 points in 29 minutes of action. He was 5-for-8 from the field with two made treys and converted eight of 11 free throw opportunities. If there ever was a game that could be labeled as a seesaw contest, the Norse and Pumas definitely played in one. SJC led 19-11 with 10:15 left in the first before NKU made a strong push to take a 30-27 halftime lead. Leading just 39-38 with 11:02 left in the game, NKU went on a 9-2 run over the next 2:47 for a 48-40 lead. Knight tallied five points during the run and Scott Bibbins, a senior guard, accounted for the other four.

The Puma defense then stepped their game up and allowed NKU to score just eight points over the final 8:15 in the contest. St. Joseph’s quickly erased the Norse cushion over the next 1:33 to take a 50-48 lead. Helmer scored eight of his game-high 20 points during the stretch. Palmer was tagged with a technical foul and Helmer converted both charity-stripe attempts. St. Joseph’s Mark Lake made a transition layup with 1:20 remaining to give the Pumas a 57-56 lead. Bibbins turned the ball over on NKU’s next possession, but Helmer’s three-point attempt was off and Knight pulled down the rebound before the final push by NKU fell short.

NKU will now set its eyes on 16th-ranked Drury University when the Panthers invade The Bank of Kentucky Center on Feb. 8 at 7:45 p.m. Drury is also ranked third in the Midwest Region. On Jan. 6 , NKU will take on Missouri University of Science and Technology at 5:15 p.m. in its annual homecoming game.

Story by Chad Hensley