By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
Unless you're so bad offensively that you physically can't toss a ball into the ocean, holding your opponent to 54 points is going to win you plenty of basketball games.
However, for the Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team, it appeared its offense is catching up with its defense in an 82-54 win over the University of Regina Huskies Wednesday night at the MSU-Northern gymnasium.
Maybe it was just the friendly rims and raucous atmosphere that the Lights needed to break out of their offensive funk. But more than anything, it was a second half, where they decided that getting a shot, any shot, on a possession was much better than a turnover.
Northern slogged its way through a sluggish first half, battling bad hands, bad passes and bad shots. The Lights committed 12 first-half turnovers, which led to 16 points and allowed Regina to lead for much of the first half.
"It's pretty easy to look at the 12 turnovers and know what you're doing wrong," said Northern head coach Shawn Huse. "We just weren't doing a very good job of taking care of the ball. There is nothing worse than not getting a shot on a possession."
Part of the reason for the Lights' offensive dysfunction was due to a zone defense that Regina threw at the Lights. The zone slowed the pace of play down to a crawl.
"It is pretty early to see a zone defense," said Northern head coach Shawn Huse. "We did practice a little for it, but it goes back to that old saying of 'nothing prepares you like a game situation.'"
Northern looked anything but comfortable against the zone. Passes were hesitant and decent shots were passed up for worse ones with the shot clock winding down.
"I don't think that a lot of teams we'll face this season are going to play zone," said junior forward Reid Stovall. "It's definitely different."
However, it was Stovall and the Lights' rebounding that kept them in it against the zone. Northern grabbed 12 offensive rebounds in the first half, keeping numerous possessions alive and getting second chance points.
"We did a good job of attacking the boards," Huse said. "It kept us in the game when we were turning it over every other possession."
The Lights did manage to lead for about the last five minutes of the first half, taking a 24-22 lead on a Tim Hutchins' driving basket. A Landen Grant three-pointer and another Hutchins jumpshot pushed the lead to 29-22. But a three from Regina's Bryden Wright, a pair of putbacks from Tai Tuisamoa and a three-pointer from Matthew Cherkas at the buzzer left both teams tied at 31 at halftime.
At halftime Huse implored his team to take better care of the basketball and to attack Regina's zone defense instead of settling for jumpshots.
The Lights responded almost immediately in the second half. Northern retook the lead at 36-33 on Grant's second three-pointer of the game and never trailed again. The Lights ripped off a 19-4 run, highlighted by three scores inside from Stovall and a putback from Marcus Campbell.
"It took us basically the first half to adjust to their zone," Huse said. "We made a concerted effort to attack the zone and make sure our posts got some touches inside."
With Northern out of its offensive funk, the Lights did what they do best, shutting down Regina's offense.
The Lights defense stifled the Huskies in the second half, limiting them just 11 field goals, 16 percent shooting from three-point range and forcing them into 13 second-half turnovers.
"The last couple of games we've held teams to really low scores," Stovall said. "The big thing for us is that our defense is consistent. We can rely on it even when our offense isn't there."
Said Huse: "I think we started to wear them down a little in the second half. We could see that they were kind of slowing down and really picked up the defensive intensity."
With Regina firing blanks offensively, Northern's offense continued to improve with each possession. The Lights got solid contributions from its bench players as the lead ballooned to over 20 points.
"It was a total team effort," Huse said. "Everybody contributed in some way. From our first starter to our last guy off the bench. That's what you want to see early in the season."
Indeed, every Lights player scored in the game, led by Jordan Matthews' 15 points. Matthews added a game-high eight assists. Stovall finished with a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds. Pathe Yatera came off the bench to score 11 points, while backup point guard Leo Bullchild had a nice game with four points and six assists.
"If we get that kind of effort every night all season, we'll be fine," Huse said.
Northern will need a similar effort tonight against a very good Dickinson State University squad. The Bluehawks finished 24-8 last season, advancing to the NAIA Division II national tourney last season. DSU is ranked 16th in the country.
"We're playing a very good, legitimate NAIA basketball team," Huse said. "We need to have that kind of effort and even better execution against Dickinson."
The Lights and Bluehawks will tip off at 7 p.m. at the MSU-Northern gym.
U OF REGINA (54)
Tai Tuisamoa 5-9 0-0 11; Greg McKoy 2-5 1-2 5; Bryden Wright 4-7 0-0 9; Joel Hunter 3-10 0-1 6; Zach Mitchell 0-3 0-1 0; Bradley Pekula 0-0 0-0 0; Shea Murphy 0-3 0-1 0; Drew Kuzminski 3-5 1-2 7; Adam Huffman 2-6 0-0 4; Michael Enns 1-4 0-0 2; Matthew Cherkas 4-6 0-0 9. Totals: 24-58 2-5 54.
Reid Stovall 5-9 0-0 10; Marcus Wilson 2-4 1-2 5; Jordan Matthews 5-12 2-3 15; Landen Grant 2-3 0-0 6; Antonio Jordan 1-6 2-2 5; Rodrick Carter 1-3 2-2 5; Leo Bullchild 2-5 0-0 4; Cory Brothers 1-3 0-0 3; Cody Gillespie 1-2 2-2 4; Ed Lowe 2-3 0-0 6; Tim Hutchins 3-7 2-2 8; Pathe Yatera 4-4 2-2 11. Totals: 29-61 13-15 82.
Halftime score: tied at 31. Three-point goals: REG 4-13 (Tuisamoa 1-2, Wright 1-2, Hunter 1-3, Mitchell 0-2, Murphy 0-1, Kuzminski 0-1, Cherkas 1-2), MSU-N 11-26 (Matthews 3-8, Grant 2-3, Jordan 1-4, Carter 1-1, Bull child 0-3, Brothers 1-2, Gillespie 0-1, Lowe 2-3, Yatera 1-1). Rebounds: REG 24 (Kuzminski 5, Huffman 5); MSU-N 44 Matthews 8, Bullchild 6). Turnovers: REG 18, MSU-N 16. Total fouls: REG 14, MSU-N 16. Fouled out : none; Technicals: none.