By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
When you've lost four straight games, there isn't a lot of time spent worrying about what your opponents are doing. Nope, the focus on things that you are or are not doing.
For the Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team, it all comes down to the little things. The Lights simply haven't been doing those little things that head coach Shawn Huse believes his team needs to win games.
Hopefully that will change this weekend as the Northern heads to Billings for a pair of games at Rocky Mountain College's Thanksgiving Classic.
The Lights will open the tournament tonight at 6 p.m. when they take on Trinity Bible College Lions out of Ellendale, North Dakota.
Trinity Bible is a private NAIA school with several players from around the country. The Lions may be even smaller height-wise than Northern with only two players standing over 6-4.
Huse doesn't know a whole lot about Trinity, or Saturday's opponent Mount Royal College, but he has bigger concerns.
"We saw some scores," he said. "We've some similar opponents. Valley City beat them pretty easily. We're just at a point where we really need to focus on doing all the things we can control. We need to do a better job of doing that before we start focusing on what our opponents are doing."
What Huse's team can control are things like blocking out, focusing on defense and taking better care of the ball - little things. It's a process that he anticipated.
"There is no better proof of needing to the little things than a loss," Huse said. "The consequences are right there. If you don't pay attention to every detail, you are going to lose."
Such has been the case in the four straight losses to DAC-10 opponents. Northern has played well at times, decent at others and even somewhat sloppy on occasion. Huse is waiting for his players to find their roles within the team. The losing streak may have actually helped that.
"As weird as it may sound, these losses have really brought us closer together," he said. "They've really started to gel as a team. Losing can be a positive thing as far as instruction and learning. All of those things you talk about and preach hit home a little bit harder after a loss."
Northern has used a week off from competition for a lot of instruction and learning. It's a process that Huse expected.
"With all the new faces, we knew it would take time," Huse said. "We knew that would be a grueling part of our schedule. The DAC-10 league has gotten very good over the past few years. We knew if we could weather the storm it would only make us stronger in the long run."
The Lights will get a boost as back-up point guard Leo Bullchild returns to the squad after missing last week's road trip due to the death of his father. Huse believes Bullchild's presence will pay immediate dividends.
"We'll have Leo on this trip and it should make a difference," Huse said. "We definitely missed his ball handling and floor vision. We did have a lot of turnovers in those game and I think he would have helped us to keep that number down."
Bullchild's return will help offset some of the injury problems that the Lights are going through. Reserve guard/forward Tim Hutchins is likely lost for the season with foot problems, while forward Marcus Campbell is battling tendinitis in his knee.
"Marcus is a little banged up," Huse said. "He can play. It's just a matter of pain tolerance. We'll see how it goes this weekend. I would like to sit and rest him if we can."
Perhaps the biggest positive for Huse has been his team's attitude this last week. The losing has caused some serious motivation which is showing in practice.
"The intensity, effort and concentration has really been there in practice," he said. "They seem really anxious to get on the floor and start competing, which is what you want from a team.
"We've been working on everything," Huse said. "We're still learning and learning. We've thrown in a few new plays here and there, but we've been working on cleaning up on our execution and fundamentals. It still takes time for these things to sink in."
There is a sense of urgency to all of this with the conference season looming in just over a month.
"We talked about it the other day about raising our level of play," Huse said. "Conference season is coming faster than they realize and we need to make some jumps in our level of play. We need to be sharper, more disciplined, just better at doing all those little things that it takes to win games."