Growth process continuing for NKU, win or lose

Cole Murray shoots the ball against Lipscomb University had 5 3-pointers in the game. NKU lost to Lipscomb 75-74 on Friday, January 24, 2014 at the Bank of Kentucky Center.

Kody Kahle/NKU Athletics

HIGHLAND HEIGTS, Ky. — Dave Bezold has a firm grasp on the big picture. He knows there are going to be nights like Friday and probably more than he’d like to see, but they are going to happen.

That doesn’t temper a loss. Nothing does.

Northern Kentucky University lost to Lipscomb 75-74 the Bank of Kentucky Center, dropping NKU to 8-13 on the season. The Norse trailed by 13 points with 4:22 left but nearly pulled off an improbable comeback win behind hot 3-point shooting by freshman Cole Murray and Lipscomb’s inability to make a free throw.

The Norse are an infant in the world of Division I sports, a program playing in just its second season at the NCAA’s top level. They are playing in the Atlantic Sun, a conference built on programs that have made similar moves to Division I. Bezold doesn’t want his players thinking about the future big picture or falling back on excuses.

That’s how he plans on getting the program to where he believes it can go.

"I think you have to always to constantly remind yourself about that but everyone is competitive," said Bezold, whose team is now 4-5 in the conference. "Every time we walk on the floor I think we should win. I don’t care where we are. I don’t care if it’s UK (Kentucky), I don’t care if it’s Lipscomb or anybody in between. I think we should win the conference. I really do.

Jordan Jackson lays the ball into the hoop against Lipscomb University. NKU lost to Lipscomb 75-74 on Friday, January 24, 2014 at the Bank of Kentucky Center.

"That’s my big picture. I just want to figure out a way to win. I don’t care about their age. I don’t care about what it is. I just think that if you do things right then you should be able to compete for the conference."

Bezold’s first team had a solid senior base and went 11-16, including a respectable 9-9 league record. This second team is all freshmen and sophomores with the exception of junior guard Jordan Jackson. Much of what Bezold wants to do is going to fall on Jackson. He led NKU with 18 points and 10 rebounds, his first career double-double.

"We’ve got a lot of young guys and a lot of guys don’t know what to do in certain situations. It’s up to me to put people in those situations to succeed," said Jackson. "We get used to standing around and not moving — doing high school things — so I feel like it’s really my job to get them moving. That’s defensively, too."

NKU never led after Jackson hit two free throws to put it up 18-15 with 7:47 left in the first half. Lipscomb led 35-31 at halftime and used a 9-0 run mid-way through the second half to forge a seemingly comfortable lead. That’s until Murray started hitting from the outside. He finished with 17 points and made four of his five 3-pointers in the final six minutes of play.

Murray got free for a shot from the wing with 18 seconds left that would have put NKU in front but the shot instead bounced off the rim. Lipscomb added a bucket, putting the game out of reach. NKU’s Todd Johnson hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to account for the final score.

Bezold will use this game as another lesson for his team. His program was a perennial regional and national power in Division II but it has taken its lumps at times the past two seasons. He has high expectations for this program, so if there was frustration in his voice after Friday’s game it’s understandable.

Those kinds of expectations are what helped NKU achieve its Division I status and why the Atlantic Sun, home of last year’s NCAA tournament surprise Florida Gulf Coast, was willing to accept it as a member.

"In basketball, the one thing that everyone who was evaluating them from CEOs on down was that they were ready to be good in basketball," said Atlantic Sun commissioner Ted Gumpart, who was in attendance Friday night. "We want to be very good in basketball. It’s something we’re committing a lot of resources to improvement so this is something that’s very valuable to us. They want to be good and we want to be good. That’s just in the basketball sense.

"You have to look at the institution first, not athletics. It’s easier to change an athletic department a lot faster than you can an institution. We’ve been pleased with what they bring as an institution as well as athletically."