By Ryan Divish
A wise coach once said, "The best thing about winning your first game of the season means you won't lose them all."
The Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team did the coach one better by picking up a pair of wins over the Medicine Hat College Rattlers this weekend to open the 2002-2003 season.
Northern picked up an 82-69 win on Friday night and an 84-66 win on Saturday night. While the Lights will accumulate plenty more wins on the season, winning the first two games is good, especially for a team that has a new coach and plenty of new faces.
"Winning the first two is nice," said head coach Shawn Huse. "We played well. I was really happy with everybody's effort and hustle."
On Friday night, Northern had five players score in double figures and shot a blistering nine of 12 from three-point range to pick up the win.
As Huse promised, the team played a relentless style of basketball on both ends of the court. The Lights' full-court pressure defense forced the Rattlers into 24 turnovers and generally disrupted their offensive rhythm.
Northern raced to a 21-7 lead early in the game, as Medicine Hat struggled with the Lights' pressure. However, the Rattlers settled down and whittled away at the Northern lead, eventually cutting it to 35-32 at halftime.
But that was as close as the Rattlers would get. Key three-pointers from Travis Moran and Charlie Ereaux quelled Medicine Hat runs.
The Lights were able to pull away thanks to relentless work on the offensive boards. Northern grabbed 14 offensive rebounds in comparison to Medicine Hat's seven.
"We always want to be on the attack," Huse said. "We stress attacking the basket and following your shots and never giving up on loose balls. Teams that are assertive and aggressive really wear on their opponents."
Koire Rogers led the Lights with 16 points off the bench on 7-10 shooting. Kent Douglas scored 15 points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. Zach McLean added 13 points and four assists, playing a solid game at the point. Ereaux and Moran finished with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
The Lights showed little effects of playing back-to-back games on Saturday night. While Medicine Hat didn't seem quite as flustered with Northern's constant pressure, the Rattlers still committed a whopping 36 turnovers in the game.
Like the night before, Northern took a three-point lead into halftime. And even more like the night before, Northern's constant pressure wilted the Rattlers.
Medicine Hat tried to keep the game close early in the second half, but Northern steadily pulled away, opening up a 15-point lead with just under 10 minutes left in the game. With the Rattlers on the ropes, Northern went for the knockout. A Reid Stovall layup, a tough drive by Larry Morinia and an Ereaux basket and bonus gave Northern a 25-point lead late in the game.
But it was the Lights' defense that proved to be the difference. Northern held Medicine Hat without a field goal for a five-minute span late in the game. The Rattlers looked tired down the stretch while Northern seemed to get stronger.
"Realistically, for us to win games, we have to do it over a 40-minute span," Huse said. "The guys have really dedicated themselves to getting in good shape to do that."
Northern once again had balanced scoring, placing five players in double figures led by Morinia's 22 points. Rogers continued his solid play off the bench, scoring 14 points. McLean had another steady game at point guard, scoring 13 points, six assists and three steals. Douglas and Moran each chipped in with 10 points.
"I was pleased to see so many people score in double figures," Huse said. "One of our goals is to be unselfish and that shows that we were."
Unlike the night before, Medicine Hat pounded Northern on the glass. The Rattlers outrebounded Northern 47-27.
"We have got to work on rebounding," Huse said. "If there was a negative, it was that we didn't get a body on somebody on every possession. We have to do that, especially with our lack of size inside."
Northern will return to action on Saturday as the team takes on the Northwest All-Stars in an exhibition game at 8 p.m.