By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
It wasn't hideous. It was far from pretty. Maybe ugly would be the best word to sum up the Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team's 88-70 win over the University of Great Falls in Saturday night's Frontier Conference opener for both teams.
But for Lights head coach Shawn Huse, the game goes down in the win column all the same.
"Absolutely, we'll take this win," Huse said. "We knew they wanted to come in here and get a 'w.' They played a lot like we did last year. They try to make the game ugly and they did a really good job of it."
Indeed, the Argos, with a little help from the referees, turned Saturday night's game into a parade of whistles, game stoppages and free throws.
There were a total of 56 fouls called and 78 free throws attempted during the foul fest, as both teams played very aggressive defense with an energy level befitting Frontier Conference play. It was that defense that led to the myriad of fouls.
"It's tough to play so aggressive, and we put ourselves in position to have certain guys foul out," said first-year coach Antonio Veloso. "Which is exactly what happened today. We were shorthanded already and it made us even more shorthanded."
UGF was without starters Bo Scott and Carlos Escoto, who were both in street clothes. Veloso wasn't clear about the reason for their absence, but it was clear that their presence was missed.
Even down a few players, the Argos played inspired basketball. UGF coupled a strong, defensive effort with a patient, deliberate style of offense, dragging the shot clock down to single digits before taking a shot on most possessions.
The slow style of play and the constant fouls, didn't allow Northern to get in much of a rhythm offensively.
The Lights struggled to get open looks and when they did, many weren't falling, particularly from outside. Northern made just 3-13 shots from three-point range while shooting just 44 percent from the field.
Still, the Lights did enough to win.
"We gutted it out and found a way to win," Huse said. "Fortunately, it's a style of defense that we're used to playing against every day."
It didn't come easy, both teams exchanged leads often in the first half, with the lead reaching its greatest at 37-31 at halftime.
The Argos quickly erased the hafltime lead as they opened the second half with an 11-2 run highlighted by a three-pointer from Ryan Zimmer to take a 40-39 lead.
Northern answered with an 11-4 run of its own to retake the lead, 46-42. The Lights capitalized as UGF starters James Edwards, Rico Suazo and Anthony Owens spent time on the bench with foul trouble. It was foul trouble that Veloso thought was avoidable.
"We made some very silly fouls," Veloso said. "We made reaching in fouls 20 feet from the basket or when a guy has a rebound in both hands we reach in at it. Just silly fouls."
Veloso could only watch as Northern began to solve the Argo defense and pull away. A Zach McLean three-pointer, a short jumper from Leo Bullchild and a pair of free throws pushed the lead to 11 points, 57-46, with seven minutes left to play.
A Zimmer score inside put the Argos within seven with just five minutes left, but Morinia answered with a pair driving baskets, Reid Stovall knocked down a jumper, and Lamar Morinia added a three-pointer to push the lead to 73-59.
Northern squelched another late Argo comeback, as Dustin Sawejka scored inside and sank two free throws after being intentionally fouled by John Paul Geniesse.
"It wasn't very pretty," Huse said. "But once we got a few shots to start falling, we were able to settle into a little more of a rhythm."
Said Veloso: "We had our chances. I'm not saying we would have won if we had those guys on the floor, but they would have made a difference. Give Northern credit, Shawn has a nice team. I don't know if they are 18 points better than us, but they have a good team."
Sawejka and Larry Morinia led Northern with 21 points each. Morinia did much of his damage from the free-throw line making 9-14 foul shots. Sawejka was instant offense off the bench, making seven of 13 shots and providing Northern with a spark offensively.
"Dustin can do that for us," Huse said. "He can really give us a lift offensively."
Northern also got 13 points and eight rebounds from Reid Stovall and 10 points from Lamar Morinia.
Owens led UGF with 21 points, while Edwards had 19 and Zimmer chipped in with 11.
With the style and intensity of play, Huse was happy with how his team reacted under the circumstances.
"Our guys did a real good job of staying as poised as possible through all the chaos," Huse said. "It's easy to become emotional with so many fouls and the style of play put you in some weird situations. But for the most part, they kept their heads and played the game."
Northern continues Frontier Confer-ence play this weekend as it travels to UM-Western on Friday and Montana Tech on Saturday.
UNIVERSITY OF GREAT FALLS (70)
James Edwards 8-16 2-5 18, J.P. Geniesse 0-5 5-7 5, Eric Oram 1-2 0-0 2, Evan Cline 1-7 4-7 6, Ryan Zimmer 2-6 6-7 11, Rico Suazo 2-2 0-0 4, Aaron Timmons 1-3 0-2 2, Anthony Owens 9-15 3-8 21, Loren Edwards 0-0 1-2 1. Totals: 24-56 21-38 70.
Landen Grant 1-4 0-0 3, Travis Moran 0-0 0-0 0, Larry Morinia 6-12 9-13 21, Zach McLean 1-1 0-0 3, Leo Bullchild 1-2 0-0 2, Walter Runsabove 0-3 0-0 0, Reid Stovall 5-8 3-3 13, Lamar Morinia 2-8 5-6 10, Berhane Williams 2-6 1-2 5, Steve Ahrens 0-2 4-4 4, Dustin Sawejka 7-13 7-8 21, Trenton Harbaugh 3-4 0-3 6. Totals: 28-63 29-39 88.
Halftime score - MSUN 37, UGF 31. Three point goals - UGF 1-10 (Geniesse 0-2, Cline 0-2, Zimmer 1-5, Owens 0-1), MSUN 3-13 (Grant 1-3, Larry Morinia 0-2, McLean 1-1, Runsabove 0-2, Lamar Morinia 1-5). Rebounds - UGF 31 (Owens 7), MSUN 39 (Stovall 8). Assists - UGF 8 (Cline 4), MSUN 15 (McLean 4, Lamar Morinia 4). Turnovers - UGF 24, MSUN 17. Blocks - UGF 3 (Owens 3), MSUN 2 (Sawejka 2). Steals - UGF 8 (Edwards 4), MSUN 10 (Lamar Morinia 3). Fouls - Great Falls 31, Northern 25. Fouled out - Zimmer, Suazo, Moran. Technical foul-Moran.