By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
Montana State University-Northern men's basketball coach Shawn Huse expected the University of Mary Marauders to be a quality opponent for tonight's non-conference game at the MSU-Northern gymnasium.
After all, the Marauders return a wealth of players from last year's team that finished 17-11. But Huse wasn't exactly prepared for the news he received on Thursday. In what was supposed to be a tune-up non-conference game for NCAA Division II University of North Dakota, Mary went into the hostile environment in Grand Forks and ripped UND, 86-54.
Mary used a 19-3 run to break open a 17-14 game and never looked back, picking up the stunning upset.
It's the kind of news that usually has opposing coaches reaching for the Maalox bottle.
"It certainly isn't getting any easier for us," Huse said. "They just went out and didn't beat a good Division II team, they dominated."
Besides the win over UND, Mary also has an impressive 21-point win over Rocky Mountain College earlier in the season.
"We definitely have our hands full again this weekend," Huse said.
It's starting to become a familiar trend for the Lights, facing a formidable team from the DAC-10. Northern is coming off of four very demanding games against Minot State and Dickinson State also of the DAC-10.
The Lights won only one of the four games, but had opportunities to win each of the games. Huse was happy with his team's efforts in all four games, but he hopes to get a few more defensive stops against Mary.
"We're giving up too many points to our opponents," Huse said. "With our style of play it's acceptable to let teams score in the low 80s. But we've been letting teams get into the 90s. A lot of the credit goes to Minot and Dickinson, but we still have to be better defensively.
Northern won't have as much trouble holding Mary in the 80s because the Marauders don't shoot enough to score that high consistently.
Mary averaged just 72 points a game last season, but don't let that fool you into thinking the Marauders can't execute offensively. Unlike the teams Northern has played this season, Mary plays a very slow, deliberate style of basketball on offense.
"I think they will try and slow us down a little, but they will fast break if they have the opportunity," Huse said. "It's a similar offense to what the University of Wisconsin runs. They are going to make you play defense the entire shot clock."
Still, those times are few and far between. It will be a stark contrast to the track meets that Northern has played in this season.
"I don't think we've played a team this methodical all season," Huse said.
But instead of settling into Mary's style of play, Huse hopes to impose Northern's uptempo style on them.
"We wanted always try to play the game at our own pace," Huse said. "There are things we are going to try and do to make them play at our pace."
Without going into much strategic details, it means Northern will use its full-court pressure defense to force turnovers and basically take Mary out of rhythm on offense.
But the Marauders are far too veteran of a team to rattle easily. Mary returns five players off of last years team that played significant minutes, while adding some quality transfers.
The key transfer is senior guard Chuck Archambault, who returns to the Bismarck area after a year at NCAA Division II Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Archambault was a local legend starring for Fort Yates in high school and at Bismarck State College.
He's a streaky shooter and solid all-around player that makes things happen on the floor. Mary also added shooters Josh Franzen and Matt Barton to go with returning 7-0 center Nate Monroe and 6-7 forward Alex Aldinger.
"Mary is a very smart basketball team," Huse said. "They have a very patient, disciplined basketball team that will take advantage of every little mistake."
Mistakes have been Northern's biggest downfall this year. The Lights committed 19 turnovers in last weekend's loss to Dickinson State. That can't happen against Mary because its style of play will limit the number of possessions in a game.
"We need to take care of the basketball," Huse said. "Each possession will be critical."
The home game will be the last for Northern for more than a month and Huse expects his team to play with a little added intensity.
"Any time you play at home, you always want to play well," Huse said. "Hopefully, this being our last home game for awhile will add a little more motivation."
Northern and Mary will tip off tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the MSU-Northern gymnasium and can be heard on 92.5 KPQX-FM.