HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Kentucky — For the NKU men’s basketball team, it all comes down to EMP.
Emotional, mental and physical buy-in — the three phases of the game that head coach John Brannen stresses to his team. All three were on display in the second half of Wednesday’s 80-70 victory over Eastern Illinois.
“It’s who we are defensively,” Brannen said. “If we don’t have EMP, then we can’t be successful. We have a philosophy that, defensively you need to be in the right position, you need to communicate and you need to put your EMP on.”
Brannen tells his team that they can overcome deficiencies if those three phases are consistent.
“If you’re not in the right position and you don’t communicate, the only thing that can save you is that,” Brannen said. “If you’re in position and you communicate but you don’t have that, you won’t get the stop. I think our guys understand that and they’re buying into it.”
Winners of three straight, the Norse (6-3) held Eastern Illinois to just one field goal over a seven-minute stretch late in the second half.
“Our enthusiasm — our EMP as coach calls it — we just picked it up,” Lavone Holland II said. “We started off really flat.”
Brannen said his team gave the Panthers nothing easy in the second half.
“We just constantly contest,” Brannen said. “We didn’t always make the right rotations, but I feel like we’re constantly there.”
The contested shots also kept the Panthers from scoring out of their offense. EIU had a season-low 8 assists. They average 16.4 assists per game.
Even with that strong defensive stretch, the Norse lead was only two, 67-65, after Montell Goodwin found Muusa Dama for an alley-oop dunk.
Holland finished the Panthers off from there.
Holland buried a three with 3:06 left to put the Norse up 5. After a defensive stop, Holland buried another three right in his defender’s face. NKU led by 8, 73-65, with 2:12 to go. He led the Norse with 28 points.
“My teammates were the reason I had a good game,” Holland said. “My coach always says, ‘Your teammates always deserve your best.’ That’s what I tried to do tonight.”
After being outrebounded in the first half, the Norse hit the boards hard in the second half. NKU outrebounded EIU 26-15 in the second half.
The Norse had just two offensive rebounds in the first half. They finished with 13 for the game.
“That’s the way we have to win because we don’t turn people over a lot right now,” Brannen said. “We have to gain possessions through offensive rebounds.”
Without Jalen Tate and Dantez Walton, Brannen had to rely on his bench to pick up the slack.
“Credit to the leaders of our team for talking our guys through it,” Brannen said. “We had our starting 2 out and our first guy off the bench out. What we said at halftime is the team with the greater will, will win the second half.
“Carson Williams really took that to heart. He was outstanding in the second half.”
After scoring just 3 points and having no rebounds at halftime, Williams finished with 10 points and 9 rebounds. He also talked about the importance of EMP to the way the Norse finished the game.
“We can do all the preparation, have as much talent,” Williams said. “If we don’t have EMP, none of that means anything.”
Cornell Johnston led Eastern Illinois (5-4) with 17 points. Demetrius McReynolds added 16.
Drew McDonald added 17 points for the Norse. In addition, Brannen credited other players who stepped up in the absence of Tate and Walton.
“A kid like Mason Faulkner has played very little until the last two games,” Brannen said. “He’s going to be an outstanding player. Cole Murray was asked to play on the perimeter for 18 minutes tonight. He played the 2 spot. He’s never played the 2 spot in his career. Doing that in a matter of two days speaks volumes to his commitment level.
“What Brandon Maxwell is bringing us from a defensive standpoint. A guy like Brennan Gillis who doesn’t play a lot of minutes right now, but man does he make us better every day.”
Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016
At BB&T Arena, Highland Heights, Kentucky
Northern Kentucky 80, Eastern Illinois 70
E — 37 – 33 — 70
N — 39 – 41 — 80
(70) EASTERN ILLINOIS (fg-3fg-ft-tp) Muusa Dama 6-0-1-13, Patrick Muldoon 2-0-0-4, Demetrius McReynolds 5-2-4-16, Cornell Johnston 5-5-2-17, Montell Goodwin 4-0-1-9, Casey Teson 1-1-0-3, Ray Crossland 3-0-2-8. TOTALS 26-8-10-70.
(80) NORTHERN KENTUCKY (fg-3fg-ft-tp) Jeff Garrett 4-0-0-8, Carson Williams 4-0-2-10, Drew McDonald 5-0-7-17, Cole Murray 3-2-0-8, Lavone Holland II 8-6-6-28, Jordan Garnett 1-0-1-3, Brandon Maxwell 1-0-0-2, Mason Faulkner 1-0-0-2, Brennan Gillis 1-0-0-2. TOTALS 28-8-16-80.
FIELD GOALS: E 26/57 (Dama 6/9, McReynolds 5/9, Johnston 5/9); N 28/57 (Holland 8/15, McDonald 5/11, Garrett 4/9, Williams 4/6)
3 POINT FIELD GOALS: E 8/18 (Johnston 5/8); N 8/26 (Holland 6/10)
FREE THROWS: E 10/14 (McReynolds 4/4); N 16/22 (McDonald 7/8, Holland 6/10)
REBOUNDS: E 30 (Crossland 8, Dama 6); N 37 (Williams 9, Garrett 8, McDonald 5, Garnett 5)
ASSISTS: E 8 (Goodwin 3, McReynolds 2); N 12 (McDonald 4)
STEALS: E 6 (McReynolds 3); N 5
BLOCKED SHOTS: E 1; N 4
TURNOVERS: E 9; N 11