On a night for celebrating seniors, freshmen made their mark as well as the Northern Kentucky University men’s basketball team used a late rally to overcome a big deficit and defeat Jacksonville University 66-62 on Saturday.
The Norse trailed Jacksonville by 13 points with 2:36 to play, but used the full-court press and clutch shooting to fight their way back over the final two minutes.
Freshman guard Todd Johnson, who finished with six points, sparked the run with a rare four-point play. Johnson was fouled as he made a three-point basket, and followed by making a free throw to cut the deficit to nine.
Johnson followed the big play with a steal on Jacksonville’s ensuing possession, knocking the ball away and allowing fellow freshman guard Tyler White to lay the ball in for another quick basket.
Norse head coach Dave Bezold was impressed with the way the freshmen were able to respond late after a rough start, mentioning two late free throws from freshman Anthony Monaco as the key moment.
Monaco went to the free throw line with his team trailing 61-60 and less than a minute left in the game. After making two free throws, the Norse took a 62-61 lead.
“For Anthony Monaco, he’s shot four free throws this year… tonight, down one, in that situation, to hit nothing but net is unbelievable,” Bezold said.
Along with the freshmen making big plays, Norse seniors responded late in the game as well.
Senior guard Ethan Faulkner, who finished with 12 points, followed a missed layup by hitting a three-point basket with 40.2 seconds to play. The basket put the Norse within one, making Monaco’s go-ahead free throws possible.
“He misses that last layup, and his shoulders drop, his head drops, and he’s almost done,” Bezold said. “So, I took him out and I said, ‘look, the next shot’s going in.’ And it did.”
Senior guard Eshaunte “Bear” Jones and senior forward Ernest “Stretch” Watson played pivotal roles as well. Jones made two free throws with 1.4 seconds left to put the game out of Jacksonville’s reach, and Watson recorded 11 total rebounds on the night.
Bezold reflected on the seniors’ final home game, pleased with the results.
“We’re very proud of them, and very happy for them to be able to walk out with something like this (game),” he said.
With the victory, NKU finished A-Sun conference play with a 9-9 record. They are now 11-15 overall. They will travel to California to finish the season on March 14, against the University of San Francisco.