Saturday, March 11, 2000

NKU 'Davids' face Goliath




BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        OWENSBORO, Ky. — The man running the hospitality room brought him a soda. Another man shook his hand. Still another came by to compliment him on his team's shooting.

        “The people of Owensboro treat me splendidly,” said NKU coach Ken Shields with a smile as wide as his team's victory Friday afternoon. “But that's what my wife says all the time, too. She says they're just setting me up.”

        The Norse led by as many as 36 points in its 89-57 NCAA Division II first-round victory over Northern Michigan. NKU advanced to the second round and will play top-seeded host Kentucky Wesleyan 2 p.m. today at the Owensboro Sportscenter.

        Shields is 0-12 against the Panthers at the Sportscenter, where 10 years ago that team at this arena handed him his worst loss ever, 117-47.

        “At this point it's not about our rivalry, but it's about making it to the championship game,” Shields said. “That's where you want to get to be.”

        To get there, NKU knows it has to play better than Friday, if that's possible. At halftime, Southern Indiana coach Bruce Pearl called NKU's first 20 minutes, “perfect.”

        The next 10 minutes were even better as the Norse hit 24 of their first 39 shots and held Northern Michigan's two best players — swingman Cory Brathol and center Kevin Coduti — to a combined 12 points and six rebounds.

        The Norse's team speed also forced 21 Northern Michigan turnovers.

        “We knew they were big and we had to use our quickness,” said Craig Conley, the lefty shooter from LaSalle High School who came off the bench for a dozen points. “We figured it was going to be easier for us to guard them with our speed than for them to guard us with their height.”

        Swingman Craig Sanders, a junior who gave up four inches to Brathol, the Great Lakes Region Player of the Year, used his quickness to hold Brathol scoreless until 6:06 left in the first half.

        “We wanted to take away his right hand,” said Sanders, who had help from Billy Brewster and Brenden Stowers off the bench. “Whenever he swings the ball down, he's getting into his rhythm. We wanted him to swing it down to the other side and make him go left.”

        In the first half, NKU senior forward Scott Marston sank four of his first five three-pointers from way beyond the arc on his way to a game-high 16 points.

        The Norse then went on a 15-2 run to bring a 43-27 lead into the locker room.

        Senior guard Kevin Listerman stole the ball twice in one minute to set up two Conley 3-pointers.

        The 5-foot-11 Listerman displayed NKU's quickness advantage by beating his man for two driving layups and finished the game with six assists and five steals.

        The Norse were stunned when the Wildcats switched to a zone defense early in the game just days after NKU set a Great Lakes Conference tournament record with 15 three-pointers.

        Their 14-for-29 effort Friday was two shy of the Sportscenter record.

        But NKU knows it won't get any easy looks like that today. The Norse blew a nine-point halftime lead here Jan. 31 in a 75-64 loss to Kentucky Wesleyan.

        The coaching staff figures NKU is slower at every spot, which has hurt them getting open jump shots, so they will try to craft a forest of picks and screens against the Panthers.

        “In two years, we haven't played two complete halves against these guys,” Sanders said. “If we can do that and keep them from getting second and third shots, we should be OK.”

        CONLEY OK: Conley left the game with a hyperextended hamstring but says he will be back for today's game.

       



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