By Harvey Brock/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.
The Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team's opportunity to win a share of the Frontier Conference regular season title was within reach.
Unfortunately, the Lights saw not only the conference title, but also a first-round playoff game at home, slip past with a pair of heartbreaking home losses to eventual league co-champions Lewis-Clark State and Westminster College.
Despite a furious regulation rally on Friday night, Northern fell to Lewis-Clark 114-109 in overtime. The Lights' chance to host a playoff game ended on Saturday night with a 68-67 loss to Westminster College.
Northern head coach Shawn Huse knew it would take a near perfect effort from his Lights to knock off both teams, which have become the dominant teams in the Frontier Conference.
"Lewis-Clark State and Westminster have raised the playing level in our conference," Huse said. "No knock on the rest of the conference, but if we want to compete for the conference championship, we have be able to beat these teams."
The Warriors came out Friday and shot a blistering 58 percent from the field and 45 percent from three-point range to take a 12-point lead with five minutes to go in the first half. Larry Morinia led a Lights' comeback to cut the lead to 42-35 at the half. The Lights shot a respectable 48 percent from the field, and 40 percent beyond the arc, but could manage only 33 percent from the free-throw line.
Lewis-Clark proved its hot first half shooting was no fluke by shooting 63 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range in the second half and took control early in the second half.
But the Lights, led by the scoring of Larry and Lamar Morinia, fought their way back in to the game. Northern grabbed its first lead of the game on back-to-back baskets from Lamar Morinia with 10 minutes to go in the game. Lewis-Clark went up 88-87 with a minute to go. After a Lights' miss to take the lead, Dustin Sawejka fouled LC's Joey Ray.
Ray made the first free throw, missed the second, but Billings native and former Light Dustin Endsley got the rebound and put it back in to give the warriors a 91-87 Warrior lead with 31 seconds remaining.
After the Lights and Warriors traded free throws, Lewis-Clark State led 93-89 with 16 seconds remaining. Lamar Morinia, knowing the Lights needed four points, took the ball the length of the floor and attempted to draw a foul from beyond the three-point line. Morinia missed his first attempt, but rebounded the loose ball, dribbled to the corner and was fouled as his second three-pointer hit nothing but the bottom of the net. He added the free throw, tying the game at 94.
"You can't coach that kind of play," Huse said. "That is just a gutsy play by a gutsy senior point guard"
Lewis-Clark State's Danny Allen's last second 3-pointer bounced off the front of the rim and the teams were headed for overtime. The teams traded three-pointers before Warrior senior center Martin Brothers scored five consecutive points, putting Lewis-Clark State up 103 to 98 with 1:30 left to play.
Havre native Landen Grant hit a 3-pointer and Larry Morinia hit two free throws with a minute remaining in overtime to tie the game at 103. The Warriors answered as Ray sank a pair of free throws and senior point guard Danny Allen hit a three-pointer from NBA range to extend the lead to 108-103. On the ensuing possession, Lamar Morinia made one of two foul shots, leaving Northern forced to foul. LC sank its free throws the rest of the way for a 114-109 win.
Northern's free-throw shooting was absolutely costly in the game. The Lights made just 27 of 46 free throws for an icy 58 percent.
"That's the difference in the game right there," Huse said. "We have to make our free throws to win games like that."
Larry Morinia led Northern with 33 points, and brother Lamar had 28 points. Dustin Sawejka came off the bench to score 20 points, while Trenton Harbaugh added 10 points and game-high 11 rebounds for Northern.
LC had five players in double figures, led by Ray's 28 points. Allen and Brothers added 20 points each for the Warriors.
Saturday night, the Lights came out and traded baskets with the Griffins of Westminster for the first 12 minutes of the game. Spurred again by the Morinias, the Lights went on a 15-3 run to open a 12-point lead with 3:24 left in the half. Westminster made a mini-run to close within seven before Lamar Morinia hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to close out the first half 42-32.
The second half was a complete reversal of the first half. The Griffins out scored the Lights 18-11 to close within two with 10 minutes to go. Following a Northern turnover, a technical foul was called on Huse, which resulted in a four-point play for the Griffins. Over the next three minutes, Westminster expanded its lead to five with three minutes to go.
The Lights could have folded, but to their credit they fought back to take a lead 68-67 with 33 second remaining on a Dustin Sawejka three-pointer from the corner. The scoreboard only counted Sawejka's shot as a two pointer, and did not turn off the shot clock. Huse finally got the referee's attention, and a timeout was called with 4.5 seconds left to get the situation figured out.
Westminster took the ball out on the side and Westminster Nick Booth was fouled on the inbound pass by Reid Stovall. Booth calmly hit the two free throws to put the Griffins up for good. With three seconds remaining, Larry Morinia drove the length of the court for a desperation shot at the buzzer that came up short.
Larry Morinia led Northern with 23 points, while Lamar Morinia added 18 points. Sawejka came off the bench to score 11 points and grab eight rebounds.
The Griffins got 22 points from Adam Hiatt and 18 from Booth in the win.
With the win, Westminster finished the regular season with a 9-3 record and a tie with Lewis-Clark State. Northern finished in a tie for fourth place with Rocky Mountain College at 8-6. However, because Northern was swept by LC and Westminster in the regular season games, Rocky will get the fourth seed and the much coveted home playoff spot where it will host the Lights on Saturday.
LEWIS-CLARK STATE (114)
Martin Brothers 8-11 4-6 20; Dustin Endsley 5-6 1-2 11; Adam Trombley 3-4 2-3 8; Danny Allen 7-12 3-4 20; Joe Ray 7-11 11-11 28; Ricky Frazier 5-11 2-2 12; Danny Ball 2-3 0-0 5; Lance Pecht 0-0 0-0 0; Jason Hansen 1-5 0-0 2; James Idoko 3-4 0-0 6; Chris Pitts 0-0 0-0 0; Jared Tikker 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 41-67 23-28 114.
Larry Morinia 12-26 8-11 33; Reid Stovall 1-4 0-0 2; Lamar Morinia 10-20 4-9 28; Landen Grant 3-4 0-0 9; Trenton Harbaugh 3-9 4-8 10; Zach McLean 0-0 0-0 0; Leo Bullchild 0-0 0-0 0; Travis Moran 2-4 3-8 7; Dustin Sawejka 6-8 8-10 20. Totals: 37-75 27-46 109.
Halftime: LCSC 42, MSUN 35. Regulation: 93-93. Three-point goals: LCSC 9-19 (Allen 3-5, Ray 3-6, Fraizer 2-3, Ball 1-2, Hansen 0-3), MSUN 8-21 (Larry Morinia 1-4, Lamar Morinia 4-12, Grant 3-3, Moran 0-1, Sawejka 0-1). Rebounds: LCSC 35 (Idoko 6, Endsley 6); MSUN 35 (Harbaugh 11) Assists: LCSC 19 (Frazier 6); MSUN 19 (Stovall 5). Turnovers: LCSC 19, MSUN 14. Total fouls: LCSC 34, MSUN 35. Fouled out - Pitts, Idoko, Stovall; Technicals - none.
WESTMINSTER COLLEGE (69)
Nick Booth 7-11 4-5 18; Matt Mark 1-4 0-0 2; Ben Rajamaki 2-2 0-3 4; Isaac Butler 0-1 0-0 0; Adam Hiatt 7-20 7-8 22; Steve Cramer 0-0 0-2 0; Jared Roberts 2-4 1-2 6; Shane Humpherys 0-4 0-0 0; Chris Howard 1-1 0-0 3; Nate Sanchez 7-8 0-0 14. Totals: 27-55 12-20 69.
Larry Morinia 6-16 8-10 23; Reid Stovall 3-4 2-2 9; Lamar Morinia 5-12 5-6 18; Travis Moran 0-3 0-0 0; Trenton Harbaugh 2-4 1-2 5; Zach McLean 0-2 0-0 0; Leo Bullchiled 0-0 0-0 0; Walter Runsabove 0-1 0-0 0; Landen Grant 0-3 2-2 2; Dustin Sawejka 5-13 0-0 11. Totals: 21-58 18-22 68.
Halftime: MSUN 42, WC 32. Three-point goals: WC 3-10 (Hiatt 1-2, Roberts 1-3, Humpherys 0-4, Howard 1-1), MSUN 8-24 (Larry Morinia 3-8, Stovall 1-2, Lamar Morinia 3-7, Moran 0-2, Runsabove 0-1, Grant 0-2, Sawejka 1-2). Rebounds: WC 19 (Booth 9, Sanchez 8); MSUN 29 (Sawejka 8, Harbauch 7) Assists: WC 14 (Hiatt 4); MSUN 11 (Moran 4). Turnovers: WC 15, MSUN 11. Total fouls: WC 19, MSUN 22. Fouled out - none; Technicals - MSUN coach.