By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Montana State University-Northern women's basketball team put together one of its best halves of basketball this season during Monday night's nonconference game with Montana State University-Billings.
Unfortunately, the Skylights couldn't match their excellent first half in the second half as the Yellowjackets rallied for a 79-71 win at Alterowitz Gymnasium in Billings.
After falling behind 15-5 to start the game, Northern reeled off 10 unanswered points behind three-pointers from Jena Heggem and Jessi Reome.
The two teams traded leads throughout the first half with the Skylights taking their biggest lead at 34-29 on a layup by Michele VanDyke with an assist from Brettney Vermandel.
The Yellowjackets rallied, but Northern still held a 36-34 half-time lead.
"We were playing good basketball in the first half," Erickson said. "We came out and played with a lot of intensity and emotion. We were making good decisions and executing."
But all of that intensity and emotion was for not in the second half. MSU-Billings came out strong in the second half, putting together a big run and taking a 48-45 lead on a basket inside by Robyn Milne.
"We came out flat in the second half," Erickson said. "After being on the road all weekend, we might have been a little mentally tired."
The mental fatigue showed as the Skylights' committed several turnovers that were uncharacteristic of their recent play. Still, they hung in there behind their guard play.
Trailing 73-59 with 3:10 remaining, Kristie Pullin drained a three-pointer, Heggem knocked down another three and Khadiga Mohamed converted a three-point play to cut the lead to 75-68 with 36 seconds remaining.
Northern added three more free throws from Pullin, but could get no closer as the Yellowjackets were able to hang on for the win.
"We turned the ball over way too many times in the second half," Erickson said. "Those turnovers just led to easy scoring opportunities for them which they converted."
Northern committed 15 turnovers in the second half and 23 for the game. The Skylights did force MSU-Billings into 20 turnovers, but the inside play of Robyn Milne and Tanya Peterson would proved to be a factor both offensively and defensively.
"We didn't get any type of post play," Erickson said. "I think Milne intimidated some of our post players with her defense. She doesn't gamble. She just plays good straight-up defense and doesn't make mistakes."
Northern's inside players accounted for just 16 of the team's 71 points. Still, the Yellowjackets adjusted pretty quickly to Northern's guard-oriented attack.
"All we could get was outside shots," Erickson said. "In the second half, they really got out on our shooters and made us take some tough shots."
Pullin led Northern with 19 points and eight rebounds in her best game of the season. Jessi Reome added 15 points, but was held to just one point in the second half. Anna Bateman chipped in with 13 points in the loss.
Milne, Peterson and Jenny Langford scored 16 points each for MSU-Billings.
"It was a game I thought we definitely had our chances to win," Erickson said. "If we played them again at home, I think we could beat them."
With the loss, Northern falls to 18-12 overall. The Skylights are still 7-5 in conference and in fourth place in the Frontier Conference. With two very important conference games against Lewis-Clark State and Westminster College this weekend, Erickson admitted his team has plenty riding on the games.
"We might to have to win out to host a home playoff game," he said. "Our backs are definitely against the wall, but we're playing good basketball right now and I'm excited to see how our girls respond to the challenge."
Kristie Pullin 6-10 5-7 19; Anna Bateman 5-10 0-0 13; Khadiga Mohamed 2-6 1-2 5; Brettney Vermandel 0-4 0-0 0; Megan Valgardson 1-7 1-2 3; DeLayne Johnston 1-8 2-2 4; Jessi Reome 5-11 1-2 15; Chasi Buffington 0-0 0-0 0; Michele VanDyke 2-3 0-0 4. Totals: 25-63 10-15 71.
Jennifer Skrifvars 2-4 0-2 4; Shannon Harvey 5-10 0-0 13; Tanya Petersen 7-17 5-8 19; Robyn Milne 6-9 7-9 19; Jenny Langford 6-14 1-2 19; Jenny Auer 1-3 0-0 3; Lisa Jellum 0-1 0-0 0; Alissa Lordeman 0-0 0-0 0; Jessica Bratton 1-2 0-0 2; Jamie Barker 0-0 0-2 0. Totals: 28-60 12-23 79.
Three-point goals: MSUN 11-25 (Pullin 2-4, Bateman 3-7, Reome 4-9, Heggem 2-3), MSUB 10-25 (Harvey 3-7, Petersen 0-1, Langford 6-13, Auer 1-3, Jellum 0-1). Rebounds: MSUN 41 (Pullin 8, Vermandel 6); MSUB 39 (Milne 9) Assists: MSUN 17 (Vermandel 5); MSUB 25 (Harvey 7). Turnovers: MSUN 23, MSUB 20. Total fouls: MSUN 19, MSUB 15. Fouled out - Skrifvars; Technicals - none.