By Ryan Divish
It's a strange thing in basketball how certain teams seem to match up against each other. On paper, the Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team should match up well with Carroll College while not as well with Rocky Mountain College.
But that's on paper. On the court, it is the exact opposite and it was evident this weekend at the MSU-Northern gymnasium as the Saints trounced the Lights, 99-70, on Friday night. But Northern shook off the loss to knock off Rocky, 92-81, to salvage a weekend split.
"We don't seem to match up very well with Carroll," said Lights head coach Shawn Huse. "And Rocky we seem to match up better with when we shouldn't with all of its size."
The matchup problems with Carroll were evident from the beginning as senior guard Gary Lynch, the deadliest three-point shooter in the Frontier Conference, worked free on the opening possession and knocked down a three-pointer. The Saints got another three-pointer from Randy Ranalli and two more from Lynch to grab an early 12-4 lead.
Northern rallied to cut the lead to 12-11 on a steal and dunk from Lamar Morinia, a Charlie Ereaux turnaround and a Reid Stovall three-point play. A pair of tough scores by Brian McGowen even gave the Lights a brief lead at the 12:54 mark of the first half.
However, it was short-lived as Carroll answered with a pair of Newell Roche free throws and another three-pointer from Lynch to retake the lead for good.
"If we were going to have any chance, we were going to have to make them miss some shots early and make some of ours," Huse said. "But that didn't happen. They hit some shots, got their confidence going and it made it really tough."
Carroll extended its lead to as much as 33 points behind Lynch, who didn't miss a shot until late in the second half and scored a game-high 25 points, including seven three-pointers. The Saints also got 18 points and eight rebounds from Jeff Mason and 14 from Randy Ranalli.
Northern was led by Larry and Lamar Morinia, who scored 15 and 11 points, respectively.
It was a tough loss, but the type that you can, and want to, forget quickly. It was also a little easier to forget the loss since Saturday was senior night.
"We did a pretty good job bouncing back on Saturday," Huse said. "We knew we had a chance to beat Rocky and it would be a good crowd with senior night and a former Hi-Line player in town. We knew it would be a fun game."
That Hi-Line player, Jake Stuart, didn't make things fun for Northern early on. The former KG star scored 14 points in the first half, including a fadeaway three-pointer at the buzzer, to give Rocky a 39-32 lead at halftime.
Rocky opened the second half with a Marshaun Jordan basket to take its biggest lead of the game at 41-32. But Northern remained resilient as Ereaux scored twice inside, Travis Moran scored on a coast-to-coast layup and Lamar Morinia drained a three-pointer to tie the game at 41.
The two teams traded leads three times before Rocky exploded for a 13-2 run - highlighted by nine points from Stuart - to take a nine-point lead at 61-52 with 13:14 remaining.
Northern once again crawled back into the game behind three-pointers from Zach McLean and Reid Stovall. With 6:57 remaining, Northern retook the lead at 67-66.
Rocky rallied to tie the score at 70, but a clutch jumper by Landen Grant gave the Lights a lead they would never surrender. Grant added another tough score inside on a nice pass from Ereaux, who made a key offensive rebound, to extend the lead. Another Ereaux offensive rebound led to a Lamar Morinia three-pointer, which iced the game. Rocky was forced to foul and Northern converted its free throws to pick up the win.
Besides the two key scores, Grant also played solid defense on Stuart, who didn't score during the final six minutes of the game.
"If anybody deserved a game ball, it would be Landen Grant," Huse said. "He hit some key shots and did a great job defensively. He raised the level of his game at least two or three levels since the season began."
Said Grant: "I wasn't going to let (Stuart) score down the stretch. I wasn't helping anyone else. I was just following him."
After Grant broke his foot early in the season, his playing time has been sporadic at times this season. But Huse credited Grant's attitude throughout.
"He always keeps a positive attitude," Huse said. "During games he's paying attention and learning all the time and it showed."
Said Grant: "The only thing you can do is stay positive. Any playing time I get is a bonus and I just enjoy. The same with practice. After all, we're out there playing ball."
Stuart scored a game-high 29 points for Rocky while Spencer Allred and Beau McFadyean added 20 and 11 points in the loss.
Larry Morinia led Northern with 23 points while Lamar added 21. Ereaux shook off some early nerves to score 12 points, but Grant was quick to praise the senior's contributions.
"Charlie does so many things that don't show up on a stat sheet," Grant said. "We all wanted to win this game for Charlie and Kent. It was their big night."
Northern will hit the road this weekend as the Lights travel to Lewis-Clark State and Westminster College.