The Northern Kentucky University men’s basketball team played in front of the largest crowed in team history in the brand new KFC Yum! Center, the new home of the Louisville Cardinals on Sunday afternoon. The attendance of 18,869 barely eclipsed the previous mark of 18,824, set in 2004 when the Norse played against the University of Kentucky at Rupp Arena.
In 2008, Louisville came to help NKU open up the then brand new Bank of Kentucky Center, as the programs squared off for the first time in history. The Norse went down to Louisville to return the favor. The KFC Yum! Center is a brand new arena built in down town Louisville that seats 22,000 fans, and replacing the Cardinals old home, Freedom Hall.
“(The KFC Yum! Center) is like the NCAA Tournament every time you walk out,” said Rick Pitino, the head coach of the University of Louisville. “When you go play in these tournaments, it’s always in a large arena. It feels like your walking into an NCAA tournament game.”
Just like the Cardinals came to open NKU’s arena, the Norse had the honor to the first team to visit Louisville’s new building.
“The opportunity to come down here and play in this facility is absolutely amazing, especially to be the first ones down here.” said NKU head coach Dave Bezold. “I would like to thank Louisville again for everything they have done, allowing us here on this special day.”
Louisville not only showed off a new arena to the Norse, they also showed off some returning players, as well as some new ones, as the Cardinals rolled to an 83-66 victory. The Cardinals put four scorers into double figures, as well as having two big men produce double-doubles. Sophomore forward Rakeem Buckles scored 18 points and collected 11 rebounds and freshman center Gorgui Dieng added 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Senior guard Preston Knowles added 11 points and sophomore guard Mike Marra added 10.
The Norse were only able to put two scorers into double figures. Senior guard Malcolm Eleby lead all scorers with 21 points, and also dished out a team leading four assists. Jon Van Hoose also added 12 points, all three pointers.
Early on, the Norse were unable to get a feel shooting in a new arena, missing 10 of their first 12 shots and only shooting 24.2% from the field in the first half. NKU was able to get some good looks against the Cardinal defense, but were unable to capitalize on those opportunities. The Cardinals start was just the opposite, knocking down 9 of their first 10 shots and shooting 53.3 percent from the field in the first half. Louisville dominated most of the first half, but sophomore guard Ethan Faulkner was able to give the Norse a little boost by knocking down a three with time expiring in the first half to give cut the Cardinals lead to 46-25.
“We got out of our element of what we are supposed to do offensively,” said head coach Dave Bezold. “We settled for quick shots, too many threes and it really allowed them to generate some fast break points and really separate at that time.”
The Norse settled down after half time, and were able to find their shooting touch in the second half. Lead by Eleby, who scored 14 of his game high 21 points in the second half, the Norse were able to make a second half push. The Cardinal lead was only 59-50 at the 6:09 mark when the Norse were able to cap off a 14-3 run with a three pointer from Van Hoose. But, that would be as close as the Norse could get, as sophomore guard Peyton Siva knocked down a three and Buckles mad a lay up to cap off a 12-2 run and put the Cardinals up 71-52 with just 3:26, and put the game out of reach. The Norse ran out of steam and couldn’t make a final push, falling 83-66.
“I was proud of our guys in the second half.” Bezold said. “I felt in the second half we did a much better job of staying within ourselves and making plays.”
Up next for the Norse will be a final exhibition game against Xavier University at Cintas Arena on November 2. The women will get underway on November 6 as they travel across the river to take on the University of Cincinnati Bearcats at Fifth Third Arena.
Story by Nick Jones