The University of San Diego is also building its way back on the Division I landscape, and the Toreros officially introduced Northern Kentucky University to big-time college basketball Wednesday night with a come-from-behind 65-61 victory over the Norse.
It marked NKU's first game as a Division I member in men's basketball.
On Wednesday night, NKU more than held its own on the road against an established Division I program.
The Norse actually led by eight points (51-43) with 9:46 remaining in the game after freshman guard Todd Johnson buried a 3-pointer while being fouled and converted the free throw.
San Diego, however, used a 7-0 run to cut the NKU lead to 51-50 with 7:32 left on the clock.
Chad Jackson's basket extended the Norse's advantage to 53-50 with 7:09 remaining, but the Toreros continued to battle and finally took the lead at the 3:26 mark (58-57) on a short jumper by Johnny Dee.
Stretch Watson countered with a basket to give NKU a 59-58 lead, but San Diego's Chris Anderson responded with a driving layup to put the Toreros ahead to stay.
Trailing by three points (64-61) in the closing seconds, NKU's Eshaunte Jones launched a long 3-point attempt that fell short of the mark. Dennis Kramer sealed the win for San Diego by making one of two free throws.
Kramer led the Toreros (2-0) with 15 points and six rebounds, while Dee added 14 points.
"I'm glad we weren't their first win in Division I," Dee said of NKU. "They played very well and really hard."
NKU head coach Dave Bezold made it clear that moral victories do not count on the court, even if it was the Norse's first game as a Division I program.
"We don't care about close," Bezold said. "This program has never been about being OK or being close. It's about winning, and we didn't do enough of the right things to win. We didn't make free throws, and we didn't make shots. We fouled too much. We didn't shoot free throws at the end, and that cost us."
Jones, who led NKU with 12 points and six rebounds, echoed his coach's views on the close loss. "We should have won it," he said.
"We made a couple of turnovers, a couple of bad decisions on my part. We should have won it. We were up eight, and we should have taken better shots."
San Diego was 25-for-35 at the free-throw line and won the rebounding battle by a 31-21 count. NKU was 9-for-13 from the line and 6-for-23 from 3-point range.
Johnson finished with 11 points in his NKU debut. Jackson and Watson each added nine points for the Norse, while Jalen Billupsscored eight before fouling out.
Billups also wasted no time in getting NKU on the scoreboard in the first half, as the 6-foot-6 sophomore drove down the lane for a layup to collect the Norse's first Division I basket at the 19:27 mark.
"Losing (Billups) really hurt us," Jones said. "He's the guy who bangs in there with the bigs."
NKU plays Tulsa on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. (EST) as the National Urea Cycle Disorders Foundation Challenge continues.
The Norse will play four games in five days in this tournament that is being hosted by San Diego.
On Saturday, NKU squares off against Siena (N.Y.) at 10:30 p.m. (EST), and the Norse conclude the tournament Sunday at 6:30 p.m. by playing Cal State Northridge.
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