All the talk and hype of Northern Kentucky University going Division I came to life on Saturday (Dec. 1), as the Norse traveled to Columbus, Ohio to take on the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes in Value City Arena, in what may have been NKU’s biggest game in school history.
The No. 4 team in the country proved to be too much for the Norse, but the game was not a complete blowout.
Turnovers and shooting percentage haunted NKU, as the Buckeyes rolled on to win, 70-43. Northern Kentucky finished 16 of 59 from the field, 7 of 29 from behind the arc, 4 of 8 from the free throw line and had 20 turnovers, which Ohio State capitalized on with 22 points.
“We really struggled for long stretches to make shots,” Bezold said. “When that happens, you’re not going to keep the gaps closed on a team like this.”
The Buckeyes were coming off a loss to the No. 2 Duke Blue Devils, just days before hosting the Norse. Ohio State made it to the Final Four last season, before losing to the Kansas Jayhawks, who then lost to the Kentucky Wildcats in the national championship.
This marks the first time the Norse has faced a nationally-ranked opponent and the first time competing against a Big Ten basketball team in the regular season. NKU played an exhibition game against Ohio State on Nov. 9, 2004, in which the Buckeyes came out victorious, 77-67.
NKU forward/center Jalen Billups led the Norse in scoring, finishing the game with 11 points and nine rebounds. Senior forward/guard Eshaunte Jones finished with nine points, all from 3-pointers.
Defense and rebounding were positives for the Norse, even though the Buckeyes led the battle of the boards, 43-41.
“One thing about coach is, he always preaches to box out,” Jones said. “In practice, it’s either you get a plus or a minus. At the end of the day, if you get a minus, you’re going to do some running at the end of practice.”
NKU’s defense held Ohio State to just 37.7 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from behind the arc. However, Northern Kentucky’s 18 fouls contributed to OSU making 17 out of 20 free throws.
“We got tired and wore down a little bit,” Jones said. “I think we are headed in the right direction.”
NKU forced the Buckeyes to rely on other contributors than star player Deshaun Thomas, who went five of 14 from the field, after averaging 22.4 points per game. Sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross stepped up with 22 points, knocking down eight of 12 shots.
Billups said he was not worried about OSU players’ high-profile statuses or if they are going to the NBA or not.
“I was just worried about playing hard and doing what I do best; just competing,” Billups said.
The game was televised on the Big Ten Network and 16,548 fans were in attendance. Billups said the trip to Columbus was a great atmosphere and experience.
“We don’t have crowds at NKU like that,” Billups said. “So it was a great opportunity to come out and play in front of these fans.”