Sunday, February 15, 2004

Shields' home finale a classic

Coach rekindles glory days with triple-overtime win

By Ryan Ernst
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. - A lot of people didn't want to see Ken Shields' coaching tenure at Regents Hall end. Saturday, it turned out fate didn't seem to be a big fan of the idea either.

NKU coach Ken Shields talks with the team in the locker room during halftime.
(Tony Jones photo)
In a game that took three overtimes, the 16-year Northern Kentucky coach led the Norse to an improbable 93-90 win over 11th-ranked Lewis. For Shields, who announced his retirement over the summer, it was his last home game. For the sellout crowd, it was a chance to recapture the joy that overtook the program in the mid-1990s, when Shields took the program to national prominence.

"It's so gratifying," Shields said. "It ended in poetic justice. It ended with a win and a dramatic win. . . . I couldn't ask for a happier ending as far as this day is concerned."

Shields met with his family at half-court shortly after the buzzer, then waved to the crowd on his way to the locker room. He re-emerged moments later to take a group picture with the 30 or so former players who attended the game. The NKU basketball alumni on hand, particularly those from the NCAA final teams of 1996 and 1997, said the game took on a familiar feeling.

"Great energy," former All-American Paul Cluxton said. "It was a typical NKU game that goes right down to the wire, and it meant a whole lot."

Much like the hoopla surrounding his 300th collegiate win earlier in the season, Shields refused to use his personal record to motivate his players. They took it upon themselves.

"Before pregame, before Coach came in, we talked about it being his last game," senior Jesse Rupe said. "It was sold out and practically everyone was here to see Coach. We really wanted to win it for Coach."

Shields, however, didn't mention the situation to his players before the game. He didn't mention it at the half. But when Lewis went up 69-67 with 22 seconds left in regulation, Shields went to the whip.

"I said, 'I don't want to go out on a losing note here at home. Please, let's win this game,' " Shields said. ". . . I brought that up a few times because I was looking for anything to get us over the hump. I know they care a lot about me, so I thought maybe that would provide the impetus to get us there. Maybe it did, maybe it didn't."

From there, Rupe hit a pair of free throws with 5.6 seconds remaining, sending the game to the first five-minute overtime period. NKU then tied the game at 79 with four seconds left in the second OT, forcing a second overtime on Pat Cary's putback. Cary then won the game in the third overtime. The junior center hit a pair of free throws with 1.1 seconds left to put the Norse up 91-90. After Lewis threw the inbounds pass out of bounds, Cary made a layup at the buzzer to seal the win.

He finished the game with 23 points and 18 rebounds off the bench. Rupe led NKU in scoring with 25 points.

The win offered a possible turning point for the Norse, who had lost their previous game on a 40-foot buzzer-beater at SIU-Edwardsville. They were ninth in this week's Great Lakes Region Ratings. The top eight make the NCAA Tournament. Lewis, by comparison, is the No. 1 team in the region and had beaten the Norse 82-69 in December.

"This game puts us back in the running," Shields said. ". . . I would love to get to the NCAA Tournament."

LEWIS (19-4, 13-3 GLVC) - McGhee 11-25 6-7 28, Holmes 5-11 2-2 12, Real 2-5 1-3 5, Hunter 5-11 7-8 18, Wright 0-4 0-0 0, Williams 4-7 0-0 9, Scala 2-5 0-0 5, Turner 6-12 1-1 13. Totals: 35-80 17-21 90.

NKU (15-11, 8-8 GLVC) - Lewin 2-5 0-0 5, Rupe 6-17 13-16 25, Howell 3-10 1-4 10, Rowland 0-1 2-2 2, Purdon 8-17 3-3 23, Stowers 0-0 0-0 0, Schappell 0-3 0-0 0, Reinhardt 2-5 1-2 5, Cary 9-11 5-7 23. Totals: 30-69 25-34 93.

Halftime: NKU 37, L 35. 3-pointers: L 3-15 (McGhee 0-5, Hunter 1-2, Wright 0-1, Williams 1-2, Scala 1-3, Turner 0-2), NKU 8-22 (Lewin 1-4, Howell 3-9, Purdon 4-9). Rebounds: L 43 (Holmes 17), NKU 48 (Cary 18). Assists: L 14 (Hunter 6), NKU 16 (Rowland 10). Officials - Grimes, Mestel, Howell. Technical foul - None. Attendance - 1,501.

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