SAN FRANCISCO – Mark Tollefsen scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half as San Francisco held on for a 73-68 win over Northern Kentucky on Thursday night in War Memorial Gym.
Cole Dickerson added 18 points – 14 in the second half - and grabbed 14 rebounds as San Francisco withstood a furious Northern Kentucky rally to collect the season-ending victory. The Dons (15-16) led by 15 points with less than six minutes remaining in the game, but the Norse stormed from behind and cut the deficit to 69-66 on a layup by Chad Jackson with 35 seconds left.
Northern Kentucky then forced a San Francisco turnover in the backcourt and had a chance to slice into the lead even further. Eshaunte Jones attempted a 16-foot jumper that was off the mark, Tollefsen rebounded the miss and was fouled. He made both free throws to extend the San Francisco lead to 71-66 with 21 seconds left, and Dickerson iced the win for the Dons with a breakaway dunk.
“Our guys fell behind, but they battled and nearly pulled it out,” Norse head coach Dave Bezold said. “San Francisco shot the ball very well in the second half (58.3 percent) to get the big lead. When we had the balldown by just three points late in the game, I liked our chances. Our guys forced them into some turnovers off the press, and put us in position to win.”
Jackson scored 18 points and grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds to lead Northern Kentucky, which finished its first season in Division I with an 11-16 record. Jones added 14 points for the Norse, who shot 43.9 percent from the field.
Ethan Faulkner added 12 points for Northern Kentucky, while Tyler White scored nine points. Ernest Watson finished with seven points and six rebounds.
The teams played to a 30-all halftime deadlock as Jackson netted nine points and grabbed nine rebounds during the first half. Jacksonscored the Norse’s first two baskets of the second half, but the junior guard was forced to the bench for nearly nine minutes after coming down hard on his right leg following a fast-break layup.
With Jackson off the court, San Francisco used a 17-7 run to turn a 34-31 deficit into a 48-41 lead. Tollefsen drained a pair of 3-pointers during the spurt. Tim Derkson, who finished with 16 points and nine rebounds, later buried back-to-back treys to extend the San Francisco lead to 61-50.
“Number 23 (Tollefsen) hurt us with his shooting, and Derkson made those 3-pointers that gave them some breathing room,” Bezold said.
The Norse began to apply full-court pressure, which bothered the Dons and jump-started a 16-4 run that brought Northern Kentucky within striking distance at 69-66.
San Francisco and Northern Kentucky both committed 14 turnovers, and the bigger Dons finished with a 36-27 advantage in rebounds. The Dons were 10-for-24 from 3-point range, while the Norse were 7-for-27.
It marked the first meeting between the two schools. San Francisco won two national championships in the 1950s and was at one time one of the nation’s top men’s basketball programs.
“You look up in this gym and see a lot of tradition, and they have two of those (national championship) banners hanging up,” Bezold said. “Our seniors really did a great job all season leading us into Division I. I’ll never forget this group of young men, the way they battled all season and led us to nine wins and fourth place in our conference. Most people picked us to finish last, but this group used that as motivation and did a great job.”
Jones, who played two years at Nebraska before transferring to Northern Kentucky, finished his career with 1,023 points as a collegiateplayer. Faulkner ended his career with 728 points and 350 assists.