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Looking to bounce back, NKU (8-2) visits Eastern Kentucky (5-4) on Saturday night

By Don Owen
NKyTribune reporter

Less than 24 hours after his team suffered a 78-65 loss to the University of Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky University head coach John Brannen was asked what he’s learned about his 8-2 Norse.

“I’ve learned this team is going to get it over a period of time,” Brannen said at the Wednesday media briefing. “It’s the job of the coach to rush the process. At the same time, we have guys who are going through everything for the first time. We have to rely on our veterans to perform.”

UC used a 14-0 run midway through the first half to turn a 13-all tie into 27-13 advantage and rolled to their eighth consecutive victory in front of a crowd of 11,218 at Fifth Third Arena. The taller Bearcats dominated the inside with their superior length and built a 45-28 cushion at intermission.

Drew McDonald enters Saturday with 858 career rebounds, just two shy of breaking LaRon Moore’s NKU-record 859 boards. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

UC outrebounded NKU by a 28-12 margin in the opening half and made 16 of their 18 free throws before the break. Brannen spoke candidly about the battle of the boards.

“I didn’t think we came out with the energy we needed,” he said. “We got destroyed on the backboard, which is what we talked about all week. Not happy at all with the first half.

“We got exposed because we played a really good basketball team. We made some mistakes earlier in the season, but they weren’t exposed to the level they were (Tuesday) night.”

NKU senior forward Drew McDonald agreed. “They (UC) crash the glass, one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the nation,” he said. “We put a lot of focus on that. In the first half, we just didn’t do that. They beat us up on the glass.

“They pride themselves on offensive rebounding. Some of their bigs do a great job of carving out space even before the shot even goes up. It was a war on the glass, but we didn’t take the fight to them, they took the fight to us.”

McDonald and his NKU teammates will try to bounce back on Saturday night in Richmond, Ky., where the Norse will face Eastern Kentucky at 6 p.m. EKU is 5-4 after posting a 79-77 victory over USC Upstate on Wednesday. Nick Mayo led the Colonels with 14 points and seven rebounds.

Mayo, a 6-foot-9 senior forward, averages 24.1 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.

“He’s one of the best players in the country, and a very tough matchup because he can shoot it from the perimeter or post up,” Brannen said.

McDonald finished with eight points and eight rebounds against UC, and he leads NKU in scoring (17.9 ppg) and rebounding (9.6 rpg). The Cold Spring native enters Saturday with 858 career rebounds, just two shy of breaking LaRon Moore’s school-record 859 boards.

“I didn’t pay any attention to it,” McDonald said when asked if he realized how close he was to the record late in the UC game. “I saw I’m two away from the record. I’ll be happy once I’m past it, so I can play more freely and not worry about it. But at the end of the day, it’s also cool and will be a big moment. Hopefully I can get it Saturday.”

A year ago, NKU cruised to a 91-63 win over Eastern Kentucky at BB&T Arena. McDonald led the Norse with 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting and nine rebounds in that victory. NKU outscored Eastern Kentucky by a whopping 64-22 margin in the paint.

Eastern Kentucky owns a 5-3 lead in the all-time series with NKU. Six of those eight previous meetings were played in Richmond.

Saturday, Dec. 8

Paul S. McBrayer Arena (6,500), Richmond, Ky.

NKU (8-2) at Eastern Kentucky (5-4), 6 p.m.

NKU Radio: ESPN 1530 (1530 AM)
Series Record: Eastern Kentucky leads, 5-3

Last Meeting: NKU 91, Eastern Kentucky 63 (Dec. 10, 2017)

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