By Ryan Divish
It was a mixture of highs and lows for the Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team. The Lights picked up a solid 91-86 victory over Dickinson State University on Friday night, but dropped a triple-overtime heartbreaker to Minot State University, 87-86, at the MSU-Northern gymnasium.
Friday night the Lights looked sharp against an untested Dickinson State Bluehawk team. Dickinson playing its first game of the season struggled early with Northern's stifling pressure defense.
"Early on we were able to dictate the pace of the game to where we want it," said Lights head coach Shawn Huse.
And that pace was fast. Northern pushed the tempo and the action. The junior duo of Travis Moran and Larry Morinia scored 18 of Northern's first 20 points to give the team a 20-14 lead. Dickinson weathered the early storm thanks to some timely three-point shooting to stay close, but Northern took a 48-43 lead into the locker room at halftime.
DSU came out in the second half intent on slowing the pace of play. The Bluehawks did a better job against Northern's pressure while settling down offensively. Dickinson opened the second half with a seven-point outburst punctuated by Robbie Bybee's three-pointer to take a 50-48 lead. Northern answered with a Charlie Ereaux baseline jumper and a Morinia three-pointer to retake the lead.
It was a sign of things to come. The lead would change hands five times over the next 12 minutes. Bybee kept DSU in the game by knocking down three-point shots from everywhere but the parking lot. With just over eight minutes remaining, Bybee's fifth three of the half gave DSU a 72-67 lead. But Northern would answer with a 13-5 run that featured three- pointers from Moran and Zach McLean, who also found Kent McDonald inside on a nifty bounce pass to tie the game at 75.
Moran added a three-point play and a three-pointer sandwiched around an Ereaux putback to put the Lights up for good. Free throws from Morinia and McLean iced the game.
"They slowed it down on us in the second half," Huse said. "There wasn't a whole lot we could tell them from a coaching standpoint. They were out there on their own and they found a way to win."
Moran led the Lights with 28 points, including five three-pointers and a team- high eight rebounds. Morinia added 24 points with six three-pointers while picking up four steals. Ereaux added 17 points for the Lights.
Bybee finished a game-high 36 points, which included 10 three-pointers for the Bluehawks. Konrad Tota added 16 points for DSU.
After coming out strong on Friday night, Northern was anything but on Saturday afternoon. The Lights started off sluggishly as Minot State rolled to an early 11-2 lead. The Beavers led for much of the first half, as Northern chipped away. Northern finally overtook Minot late in the first half on a pair Brian McGowan free throws and a Morinia jumpshot, giving the Lights a 33-31 lead at halftime.
"We don't have a lot of depth right now," Huse said. "I think that Friday night's game was such an emotional, physical battle that we came out a little sluggish on Saturday in the first half."
It was Minot State's turn to play catch-up in the second half. The Beavers trailed by as many as eight points. But, like Northern in the first half, Minot slowly fought its way back into the game. The Lights didn't help matters by missing a myriad of free throws.
Trailing 65-63 with 1:15 remaining, Minot's Kent Bloms converted a tough reverse layup inside to tie the game. Northern had two possessions to take the lead, but a turnover and missed shot sent the game to overtime.
The Lights and Beavers battled to stalemates in both overtimes, but both teams had opportunities to win. Douglas had a tough layup inside roll off the front of the rim as time expired in the first overtime. Minot returned the favor as Tracy Murphy missed from point- blank range as time expired in the second overtime.
In the third overtime, Northern appeared to take control of the game following a Morinia jumper, a Douglas free throw and another Morinia score to leave the score 82-77. Minot answered with a Ryan Johnson drive and two free throws each from Kyle Hunt, Mislav Presova and Murphy to take 85-82 lead.
Northern answered with a Douglas putback, and Koire Rogers rebounded his own miss and nailed a short jumper to give the Lights an 86-85 lead with 3.9 seconds remaining.
Minot State called timeout and set up a play. Johnson took the inbounds pass and was able to drive three-quarters of the court to throw up a running three-point shot. McLean, who was running step for step with Johnson, made contact with Johnson on the shot and referee Kelly Nurse called a foul on McLean, giving Johnson three free throws to win the game.
He only needed two. Johnson sank the first two foul shots to give Minot its first win of the season.
"Everybody made a few mistakes in that game," Huse said. "Somebody once said, Basketball is a game of mistakes and the team who makes the fewest usually wins.' We made more than our fair share."
"This is a good experience for our team. They understand we did have some opportunities and cutting down on those little mistakes is important."
Northern shot an icy 46 percent from the free-throw line, making 14 of 30 shots. It also played almost the entire game without senior forward Charlie Ereaux, who was riddled by foul trouble.
"Charlie played 16 of 55 minutes," Huse said. "If he's out there, it's definitely a different game."
Morinia led Northern with 26 points while McLean added 15 points and five assists. Douglas finished with 14 points and a game- high 13 rebounds. Rogers added 12 for Northern.
Minot had five players in double figures, led by Johnson's 16 points.
"We lost to a very good team," Huse said. "They're going to contend in their conference. I can't really fault our guys for their effort, desire and hustle. They didn't fold down the stretch. We had a shot to win the game. It was a tough loss, but they left their hearts on the floor."
Northern will be at home next weekend as the team hosts the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic starting on Friday.