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Quick ball movement, extra passes ignite Norse offense; NKU faces tough game at ETSU

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By Don Owen
NKyTribune reporter

Unselfishness is a defining trait of the culture John Brannen has built at Northern Kentucky University. In his third year as NKU’s head coach, Brannen’s philosophy of moving the ball quickly and finding the open man has become a second-nature reaction for his Norse.

NKU head coach John Brannen

Want an example? Check out the postgame thoughts of NKU junior forward Drew McDonald, who became the 26th member of the Norse’s 1,000-point club on Saturday night during an 86-49 victory over Morehead State in BB&T Arena.

“We trust our offense, because Coach Brannen puts us in great position to be successful based on the personnel on the floor and what our strengths are,” McDonald said after scoring a game-high 22 points, including five 3-pointers.

“Moving the ball, trusting one another, passing up a good shot for a better shot and sharing the ball. We don’t care who gets the credit, we just want to make sure we get points on the board.”

The ball movement worked to perfection against Morehead State, as NKU sizzled the nets for 59.3 percent shooting from the field. The Norse (6-2) ran the Eagles out of Highland Heights during the second half by connecting on 72 percent of their shots — including an 8-for-11 performance from 3-point range.

“We took the next step as a team,” Brannen said, noting the second-half intensity against Morehead State. “During the first seven games, we built substantial leads and did not increase them. That did not happen tonight. I harped on it all week.

“I could not be more proud of our young men’s defensive intensity from beginning to end. It’s human nature, but pressure can build up on a team with a big lead. Our second-half shooting was outstanding. We passed the ball very well, found the open man, and finished the plays.”

NKU’s bench continued its productive ways, and Brannen praised the work of junior forward Jeff Garrett.

NKU’s Drew McDonald scores against Morehead State.

“Our bench was tremendous, and Jeff Garrett was awesome,” Brannen said of Garrett, who scored 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting from the field with seven rebounds. “Jeff brought energy, he brought rebounds, and he brought points. Tre Cobbs gave us really good minutes, and Mason Faulkner changed the game defensively when he came into the game.”

Brannen, who spent two seasons at Morehead State before transferring to Marshall and completing his career with the Thundering Herd, scored a combined 1,533 points as a collegiate player. He actually joined Marshall’s 1,000-point club with a total of 1,008 in two seasons, and could appreciate McDonald’s accomplishment in just a bit more than two years at NKU.

“It’s pretty impressive for him to reach 1,000 points this early,” said Brannen, a Newport Central Catholic product himself, just like McDonald. “Drew is such an all-around player that he does it inside and then pops outside for a 3-pointer. He’s also a very good passer, and he puts our other guys in position to get open shots.”

McDonald and his NKU teammates face a stiff challenge Wednesday night in Johnson City, Tenn., where the Norse will meet East Tennessee State at 7 p.m. The Buccaneers are 4-3 after pulling out a hard-fought 83-77 victory at Fordham last Wednesday night. Desonta Bradford led ETSU with 22 points, while teammate Bo Hodges scored 20.

Earlier this season, NKU posted an 81-63 victory against ETSU at BB&T Arena. McDonald scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead the Norse, while Lavone Holland II added 16 points, five assists and three steals.

NKU’s Eshaunte Jones

A year ago, ETSU captured the Southern Conference championship and finished with a 27-8 record. The Buccaneers advanced to the NCAA Tournament, where they dropped an 80-65 decision to Florida in the first round.

ETSU holds a 3-2 lead in the all-time series with NKU. The two schools were both members of the Atlantic Sun Conference during NKU’s first two seasons of Division I competition, and ETSU won three of the four games played as league rivals.

NKU’s only road win against ETSU occurred on Jan. 31, 2013, when the Norse pulled out a 70-68 victory at Johnson City, Tenn. Eshaunte Jones poured in 25 points, including a 3-pointer while being fouled with 26.7 seconds left in the game, as NKU held on for the win over ETSU.

Jones made a career-high seven 3-pointers in that NKU victory. His final trey, which banked in after he was fouled while taking the shot from the left wing, resulted in a four-point play that extended a 66-65 Norse lead to 70-65.

WHAT: Northern Kentucky (6-2) at East Tennessee State (4-3)
WHEN: Wednesday, Dec. 6, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Johnson City, Tenn.
ARENA: Freedom Hall Civic Center (6,500 capacity)
SERIES: ETSU leads, 3-2

NKU WOMEN MEET AUSTIN PEAY: The NKU women’s basketball team plays host to Austin Peay at 7 p.m. Tuesday at BB&T Arena. NKU is 1-5 after dropping a 67-56 decision at Stetson on Saturday in DeLand, Fla.

Molly Glick scored 21 points to lead the Norse in the loss to Stetson. Samari Mowbray added 11 points and two steals for NKU, while teammate Kailey Coffey chipped in nine points.

Austin Peay, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference, owns a six-game winning streak and enters Tuesday sporting a 6-1 overall record. The Governors posted an 82-73 victory over Evansville on Saturday at Clarksville, Tenn.
This will be the first meeting between NKU and Austin Peay in women’s basketball.

Glick is NKU’s top scorer at 13.7 points per game. She has also converted 88.9 percent of her free throws and has a team-leading eight blocked shots.

Contact Don Owen at don@nkytrib.com

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