By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
Shawn Huse has used several words when he talks about the players on his Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team this season. Some are good, some are bad, some couldn't be printed.
But following Northern's gutsy overtime upset of Rocky Mountain College in Billings Saturday night, Huse was reduced to one word and one word only. Heart.
"There is only one word I can attribute this win to and it's heart," Huse said. "We were just scrapping and playing hard. When you get into an overtime situation, everybody's legs are tired, and you need to have that heart and we showed it against Rocky."
Indeed, the game was pretty much over with two minutes left to go. Northern barely had a pulse as it trailed by nine points with just over a minute left to play. A pair of dunks from Rocky's Bobby Coleman and Luke Kunkel were just more salt being poured into the Lights' wounds.
However, Northern is no stranger to coming from behind. The Lights ripped off three-pointers from Reid Stovall, Travis Moran and Larry Morinia to roar back into the game.
"It was the craziest thing I've even seen," Huse said. "Honestly, that game was over. They were getting dunks and while they were celebrating, we were getting threes. We knew it would take a monumental effort just to get to overtime and that's what we got."
The last of Northern's barrage of three-pointers was also a monumental if not an impossible shot. With time winding down, Zach McLean heaved an awkward lob pass toward Larry Morinia at the top of the key. Morinia leapt high in the air to catch the pass, came down and elevated again for a high-arching three-pointer over a Rocky defender that found nothing but the bottom of the net at the buzzer.
"He had to make a heck of an effort just to catch the pass," Huse said. "And he had to make an even tougher shot. He had to put a little extra arch on the shot and jump a little higher just to get the shot off. It was pretty awesome."
Any momentum Rocky had in the minutes before disappeared as Northern rolled into the overtime period, grabbed the lead and never relinquished it. Stovall made another of his solid defensive plays with 6.4 second remaining and the Lights hung on to a 91-89 lead. Stovall jumped out on a screen for Rocky's Greg Wood, forcing Wood to lose the ball out of bounds.
The Bears were forced to foul, sending Moran to the line. He sank one of two shots to secure the win.
It was yet another come-from-behind win for Huse's cardiac kids.
"We've been in enough close games this season so our kids don't get really rattled," Huse said. "We practice for the situation and they really responded."
Morinia, who is making a strong case for the Frontier Conference MVP award, finished with 33 points and five rebounds. Stovall had his finest game of the season, scoring 22 points on 8-10 shooting while making key defensive plays the entire game.
"Reid did just a tremendous job defensively," Huse said. "We had two of our post players fouled out and he was out there guarding guys that were much taller than him and getting key stops. He's not the tallest or the most athletic post player in the league, but he plays the game the right way. Anybody who is undersized and doesn't think they have a spot in this league, they need to start watching Reid Stovall."
Northern also got 18 points and five assists from Lamar Morinia. Rocky was led by Luke Kunkel's 29 points and 10 rebounds. Bobby Coleman came off the bench to score 16 points, while Jake Stuart added 15 points on 10-10 shooting from the free-throw line.
With the weekend sweep of Carroll and Rocky, Northern improved to 8-4 in conference and is tied with Rocky for third place. The wins also mean that if the Lights were able to win this weekend's games against Westminster College and Lewis-Clark State, they would earn a share of the Frontier Conference regular season title.
"It would be really neat to do that," Huse said. "But we're going to go out and play the same free-swinging, aggressive style of basketball and let the rest take care of itself."
While the Lights' game was filled with drama and action, the Skylights wanted none of that. Northern took the suspense out of the game early with a 12-4 start and rolled to its seventh conference win on the season.
Northern forced Rocky into 22 turnovers and limited the Bears to 27 first half points on a 37 percent field-goal percentage. Rocky cut the lead to 10 with about two-minutes left in the game, but Khadiga Mohamed scored a pair of baskets to push the lead back up and put the game away.
Anna Bateman led a balanced Skylight attack with 16 points and five assists. Mohamed scored all 14 of her points in the second half. Megan Valgardson made the most of her return to the starting lineup scoring 13 points and pulling down 11 rebounds. Brettney Vermandel chipped in with 12 assists while dishing out a game-high nine assists.
Rocky was led by the Griffith sisters. Amber Griffith scored a game-high 19 points and pulled down 12 rebounds, while sister Ashley chipped in with 19 points
Northern, 7-5 in conference, is tied with Westminster College for fourth place in the standings. With the top four teams earning home playoff games, this weekend's game against Westminster and third-place Lewis-Clark State will be key to maintaining that position.
Northern will first have to take care of a very tough Montana State University-Billings squad tonight in Billings. The Yellowjackets are 15-11 on the season and are led by post players Robyn Milne (14.7 ppg, 11.7 rpg) and Tanya Peterson (14.2 ppg). The game will tip off at 6 p.m.
Megan Valgardson 3-7 7-11 13, Jessi Reome 1-3 0-0 2, Kristie Pullin 4-11 0-0 8, Anna Bateman 5-13 2-2 16, Brettney Vermandel 5-10 2-2 12, DeLayne Johnson 1-2 0-0 2, Kristal Lohse 2-3 1-1 5, Khadiga Mohamed 5-8 4-5 14, Chasi Buffington 0-0 0-0 0, Jena Heggem 1-2 0-0 2, Michele VanDyke 1-3 0-0 2. Totals: 28-62 16-21 76
ROCKY MOUNTAIN COLLEGE (67)
Amber Griffith 8-18 1-2 19, Mandy Norby 4-8 0-0 8, Stacey Nevrivy 2-5 0-0 6, Jamie Graham 1-3 0-0 3, Ashley Griffith 6-16 4-6 18, Adja Fame 2-2 1-2 5, Amy Schillinger 2-2 0-0 4, Katherine Bitz 1-3 0-2 2, Kelley Edwards 1-2 0-0 2, Shye Boggs 0-1 0-1 0. Totals: 27-60 6-13 67.
Halftime score: MSUN 40-27. Three point goals: MSUN 4-15 (Reome 0-1, Pullin 0-2, Bateman 4-11, Heggem 0-1), RMC 7-17 (Am. Griffith 2-6 Nevrivy 2-4, Graham 1-2, Ash. Griffith 2-5). Rebounds: MSUN 35 (Valgardson 11), RMC 35 (Am. Griffith 12). Assists: MSUN 21 (Vermandel 9), RMC 21 (Am. Griffith 4, Norby 4). Turnovers: MSUN 16, RMC 22. Total fouls: MSUN 17, RMC 20.
Reid Stovall 8-10 5-7 22; Landen Grant 1-4 0-0 3; Trenton Harbaugh 0-2 3-4 3; Larry Morinia 12-19 6-7 33; Lamar Morinia 6-16 4-11 18; Leo Bullchild 0-1 1-2 1; Walter Runsabove 1-1 0-0 2; Travis Moran 1-4 3-6 6; Dustin Sawejka 2-6 0-0 4. Totals: 31-63 22-37 92.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN COLLEGE 89)
Ken Waldo 2-5 1-2 5; Luke Kunkel 13-15 3-6 29; Eddie Stack 3-3 0-2 6; Greg Wood 4-14 1-2 11; Jake Stuart 2-15 10-10 15; Brett Wilson 0-0 2-2 2; Bobby Coleman 7-15 2-4 16; Joe Cook 0-0 5-8 5. Totals: 31-67 24-36 89.
Three-point goals: MSUN 8-21 (Stovall 1-2, Grant 1-3, Larry Morinia 3-7, Lamar Morinia 2-7, Bullchild 0-1, Moran 1-2), RMC 3-15 (Wood 2-7, Stuart 1-6, Coleman 0-2). Rebounds: MSUN 34 (Grant 7); RMC 46 (Kunkel 10, Stuart 8). Assists: MSUN 18 (Lamar Morinia 5); RMC 17 (Wood 5). Turnovers: MSUN 17, RMC 18. Total fouls: MSUN 30, RMC 28. Fouled out - Grant, Harbaugh, Sawejka, Waldo, Kunkel, Stack, Coleman; Technicals - none.