By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
The first road trip of the Frontier Conference season wasn't too kind to the Montana State University-Northern basketball teams.
Both the Skylights and Lights suffered losses to Rocky Mountain College Thursday night at the Fortin Center in Billings.
In the opening game, Rocky overcame a nine-point first half deficit and held on to a 72-67 win to hand the Skylights their first conference loss of the season.
Former Skylight Jenny Balgua came back to haunt her old squad, scoring Rocky's final seven points down the stretch to secure the win.
With her team clinging to a 65-63 lead, Balgua drilled a three-pointer to push the lead to 68-63 with just over two minutes remaining. Northern answered with a free throw from Kristie Pullin and a three-pointer from Camille Gardner to cut the lead to 68-67 with 30 seconds remaining.
Forced to foul, Northern had no choice but to foul Balgua, who subsequently made both free throws to push the lead back to three at 70-67.
Following a Northern timeout, the Skylights worked for a game-tying three-point shot. Pullin found Jaci Heny with a slight opening from the wing with time running out. Heny head faked Rocky's Rae Dawn Lei and then attempted the shot with some contact on the play. The shot was no good.
However, on the play Northern head coach Mike Erickson was whistled for a technical foul for arguing the no-call.
"There was contact, there's not doubt about that," said Skylights assistant coach Warren Quick. "Jaci did kind of lean in, but the defender also kind of jumped out at her. Who initiated the contact? I don't know. But it would have been a tough call either way."
Balgua sank both of the free throws from the technical and Rocky ran the clock out for the win. The play obviously had huge ramifications, but Quick wasn't going to blame the loss on it.
"That one play didn't lose us the game," he said. "We missed countless open looks before that to take the lead."
Balgua certainly didn't help the Skylights' chances. The senior point guard finished with a game-high 22 points and six assists.
"She really gets up to play against us," Quick said. "It's understandable because she used to play for Northern. She just killed us at times."
The Skylight killed themselves at times as well, shooting just 42 percent from the field, an abysmal 12-20 from the free-throw line and 9-28 from three-point range.
"We simply didn't shoot the ball well," Quick said. "It wasn't that we weren't getting good shots. We just weren't hitting them. It's tough to win on the road when you don't shoot the ball well."
Northern's two leading scorers Jaci Heny and Jessi Reome, struggled from the outside, shooting a combined 8-34 from the field for 22 points. Gardner scored a team-high 19 points, while Michele VanDyke chipped in with 16 points.
"Michele had another great game," Quick said. "Camille was also solid."
The loss was particularly tough considering Northern jumped out to an 18-8 lead in the first half.
"We had the momentum," Quick said. "They called timeout and made a run. If we hit some shots after that, we might have been able to put them away early."
Offense wasn't at premium in the men's game either. Northern's defense stifled a potent Bears' offense, but in the end, Northern couldn't produce the offense when it needed it most, falling 64-62 to Rocky.
Eddie Stack's only three-pointer of the game with 28 seconds left to play would prove to be the difference in the game. With Rocky clinging to a 61-58 lead and trying to run the clock out, Stack found himself with the ball with the shot clock running out. He never hesitated, firing from long range, hitting just his fourth three-pointer of the year to push the lead to 64-58.
Northern tried to answer, attempting a three-pointer. The shot missed and after a slight scramble, Marcus Wilson put in a short bucket to cut the lead to 64-60.
Forced to foul, the Lights put Cooper Warren on the line with just under six seconds remaining. He subsequently missed the front end of a one-and-one. Jordan Matthews took the ball the length of the floor for a dunk, but it was simply too late.
"Stack hit a big shot in that situation," said Lights head coach Shawn Huse. "I thought we had done a good job of defending on that possession up to that point."
Actually, Northern did a good defending for most of the game, holding Rocky to 64 points, 16 below its season average.
"We played really strong defensively," Huse said. "We did what we wanted to do coming in. They have a lot of weapons and talented players. To hold them to under 70 points is what we thought we needed to do to win."
Of course, Northern needed to break that 70-point barrier offensively as well. The Lights simply didn't shoot well enough to do that.
"We just didn't make the shots when we needed to," Huse said. "Especially down the stretch. We had plenty of chances to retake the lead in the second half."
The Lights played solid in the first half, leading by as many as six in the first half and 32-29 at halftime.
"I thought we played really good in the first half," Huse said. "We executed pretty well and had the lead. But they started doubling Marcus in the second half. It gave us some open shots from the outside, but we just didn't make any of them."
Wilson finished with a game-high 16 points and four rebounds. But no other Lights player reached double figures.
Rocky got 14 points each from Luke Kunkel and Wes Morales in the win.
Both Northern teams are off today and will return to action on Saturday night when they face Carroll College in Helena. Game times are 6 and 8 p.m. and can be heard locally on 92.5 KPQX-FM.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN 72, MSU-NORTHERN 67
MSU-NORTHERN (16-5, 2-1)
Michele VanDyke 6-9 4-7 16, Megan Valgardson 1-7 3-4 5, Jesse Reome 5-18 1-2 14, Jaci Heny 3-16 1-3 8, Camille Gardner 7-12 0-0 19, DeLayne Johnston 0-1 2-2 2, Kristie Pullin 0-5 1-2 1, Ashley Trulock 0-1 0-0 0, Jena Heggem 1-2 0-0 2, Heather Riener 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 23-72 12-20 67.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN (6-11, 2-1)
Alyssa Root 6-13 3-3 15, Gretchen Wall 6-10 0-0 13, Katherine Bitz 2-9 0-1 4, Stephanie Neubauer 2-5 0-0 5, Jenny Balgua 7-15 6-6 22, Jeri Matter 3-5 0-0 6, Rae Dawn Lei 1-7 0-0 3, Sarah Bills 0-5 4-4 4, Jamie Graham 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 27-71 13-14 72.
Halftime score: RMC 34, MSU-N 34. Three-point goals: MSU-N 9-28 (Gardner 5-9, Reome 3-12, Heny 1-5, Pullin 0-2), RMC 5-18 (Balgua 2-5, Lei 1-3, Neubauer 1-2, Wall 1-1). Rebounds: MSU-N 49 (Valgardson 10, Heny 9, Pullin 8); Rebounds: 49 (Root 11, Lei 8). Assists: MSU-N 17 (Pullin 6); RMC 15 (Balgua 6). Turnovers: MSU-N 11, RMC 10. Total fouls: MSU-N 14, RMC 18. Fouled out: none; Technicals: Skylights head coach.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN 65, MSU-NORTHERN 62
MSU-NORTHERN (10-7, 1-2)
Reid Stovall 2-5 22 6; Marcus Wilson 8-14 0-0 16; Jordan Matthews 4-14 0-0 9; Landen Grant 1-2 0-0 3; Leo Bullchild 3-5 0-0 8; Rodrick Carter 1-3 0-0 4; Cory Brothers 1-5 1-1 4; Antonio Jordan 1-5 1-1 4; Cody Gillespie 1-1 0-0 2; Tim Hutchins 1-1 0-0 2; Dan Brigham 2-4 1-3 5. Totals: 25-59 5-7 62.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN (12-7, 1-2)
Bobby Coleman 2-5 0-1 4; Ryan Gomendi 3-6 0-0 7; David Ellis 3-10 0-0 6; Luke Kunkel 5-7 4-5 14; Eddie Stack 2-4 3-3 8; Marcel Miller 3-6 0-0 7; Cooper Warren 1-2 0-1 2; Wes Morales 6-8 1-3 14; Eric Gallinger 0-1 0-0 0; Joe Cook 1-3 0-0 2. Totals: 26-52 8-13 65.
Halftime score: MSU-N 32, RMC 29. Three-point goals: MSU-N 7-19 (Stovall 0-1, Matthews 1-6, Grant 1-2, Bullchild 2-3, Carter 101, Brothers 1-3, Jordan 1-3), RMC 4-11 (Gomendi 1-2, Ellis 0-4, Stack 1-1, Miller 1-2, Morales 1-2). Rebounds: MSU-N 28 (three with four); RMC 36 (Kunkel 8) Assists: MSU-N 14 (Gomendi 3, Warren 3); RMC 13 (Gomendi 3, Warren 3). Turnovers: MSU-N 15, RMC 21. Total fouls: MSU-N 18, RMC 16. Fouled