GALLERY: Smothering defense helps propel Norse past Norfolk State

Matt Sexton, Sports Editor

NKU held Norfolk State to just 35 percent shooting from the floor Sunday night in an 81-60 Norse victory at BB&T Arena.

The 60 points scored by Norfolk State (4-5) was its lowest offensive output of the season.

“It was our defensive effort that I was proud of,” NKU Head Coach John Brannen said. “We spent this entire week focusing on our positioning defensively, our communication and our sustainable effort.”

Norfolk State had scored 70 or more points four times and scored 88 in its last outing against Coppin State.

Jeff Short, who averaged 18.1 points per game entering Sunday, scored just 10 points on 4 of 15 shooting. D’Shon Taylor, the team’s second-leading scorer at 15.3 per game, scored just 4 points, all on free throws.

“We played a very potent offensive team,” Brannen said. “We played a team that had two guys that were first team, all-conference players. We held those two all-conference players (Short and Taylor) to 4 of 19 from the field.”

In the second half, the NKU offense almost couldn’t miss.

NKU shot a scorching 20 of 27 from the floor in the second half, including 7 of 9 from three-point range. Combined with NKU’s suffocating defense, Norfolk State couldn’t stay in the game.

Brannen cautioned his team after the game that the offensive explosion shouldn’t change the identity of the team.

“I felt the identity of this team was tied to making shots during my first six months here,” Brannen said. “I don’t want that to be our identity. Our identity needs to be defensively what we do on a daily basis.”

NKU had four players score in double figures with Jalen Billups leading the way with 23 points and 9 rebounds. Cole Murray knocked down 6 threes on the way to 22 points.

“Lately, we’ve been struggling from the field, but eventually, it was going to pay off for us and we were going to make some shots,” Billups said.

Like Brannen, Murray was quick to credit the defense for the offensive success.

“We focused a lot of defense,” Murray said. “With our defense playing the way that it did, that freed us up offensively to do a lot more things.”

After three straight road games, both Billups and Murray talked about how much they enjoyed being at home.

“It was very comforting as a shooter to come back home,” Murray said. “Get some shots back up in the arena you practice in. We knew we could right the ship back at home”

After Sunday brief stay in BB&T Arena, the Norse hit the road Tuesday for Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Wolverines await NKU, and another challenge awaits Brannen’s squad.

“I expect to see a team that utilizes (this win) the right way, and continues to do the things we need to do defensively on a very short turnaround,” Brannen said. “We had a one-day turnaround for Xavier so we’ve done it before.

“Now we have a one-day turnaround for an elite-level team with an elite-level coach. How we put together a game plan in 24 hours and execute it in 48 is going to be important. That shows a level of maturity, so we’ll find out if we can take the next step in that maturity level.”


Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015

@ BB&T Arena, Highland Heights, Kentucky

Northern Kentucky 81, Norfolk State 60

NS – 21 – 39 — 60
NK – 27 – 54 — 81

(60) NORFOLK STATE (fg-3fg-ft-tp) Robinson 2-2-0-6, Taylor 0-0-4-4, Short 4-0-2-10, Oliver 2-0-7-11, Butler 3-0-1-7, Bungei 2-0-4-8, Wade 4-2-0-10, Long 2-0-0-4. TOTALS 19-4-18-60.

(81) NORTHERN KENTUCKY (fg-3fg-ft-tp) Garnett 4-0-2-10, White 5-3-0-13, Holland II 3-1-1-8, Billups 11-0-1-23, Murray 6-6-4-22, Giesler 1-0-0-2, Danos 1-1-0-3. TOTALS 31-11-8-81.

FIELD GOALS: NS 19/55 (Short 4/15, Wade 4/7, Butler 3/3); NK 31/54 (Billups 11/16, Murray 6/9, White 5/9, Garnett 4/6)

3 POINT FIELD GOALS: NS 4/15 (Robinson 2/4, Wade 2/3); NK 11/20 (Murray 6/8, White 3/6)

FREE THROWS: NS 18/19 (Oliver 7/8, Taylor 4/4, Bungei 4/4); NK 8/13 (Murray 4/4, Garnett 2/4)

REBOUNDS: NS 30 (Bungei 7, Short 4); NK 33 (Billups 9, Holland 5, Garnett 4)

ASSISTS: NS 12 (Robinson 4); NK 18 (Cole 4, White 4, Holland 3)

STEALS: NS 6 (Robinson 4); NK 3

BLOCKED SHOTS: NS 5 (Taylor 2, Butler 2); NK 3