Havre Daily News sports editor
Montana State University-Northern head men's basketball coach Shawn Huse was hoping his team would improve over the course of the two games the Lights played this weekend during the Coaches vs. Cancer/Super 8 Classic at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse in Havre.
What Huse got was a suddenly shorthanded bench and two scintillating performances. The Lights defeated The Kings University College, 88-57, on Friday night, and Concordia U.C., 91-68, on Saturday night.
The Lights have been playing the last two weeks without injured point guard Leo Bullchild. This week Northern also lost senior forward Reid Stovall to an injury and, to make matters more difficult, sophomore Cory Brothers was suspended for both games for a disciplinary reason.
Huse expects Stovall back in the lineup sometime after Christmas.
Playing without three of its top 10 players, Northern could have easily faltered. Instead, Huse inserted seldom-used guard Nick Hittner into the starting lineup and the Lights never missed a beat.
“It was a very good weekend for us, and I think we accomplished quite a bit,” Huse said. “One of the good things was that we got to use a lot of different combinations of players on the floor, and I thought everything we did really worked well.”
On Friday night, it was Hittner, starting in place of Brothers, who stepped up for Northern. The sophomore from Beaverton, Ore., scored a career-high 18 points, grabbed six rebounds and knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in his first start to help guide the Lights to an easy win over The Kings University.
“Nick Hittner had a great weekend for us,” Huse said. “He was a guy who hasn't got to play a whole lot this season, but he really made the most of his time this weekend.”
Not to be outdone, senior Jordan Matthews scorched the Eagles for a game-high 31 points, 24 of which came in the first half. Matthews scored 12 of Northern's first 14 points in the first half, leading the Lights to a 42-23 halftime lead.
The Eagles hung tough early on, but Matthews also sparked a 16-2 run in the final six minutes of the opening half. That spurt essentially put the Eagles away for good, as the Eagles would never get within 15 points in the second half.
“I thought offensively we came out and played really well,” Huse said. “We got a balanced scoring attack on Friday night, and having several guys in double figures always helps.”
Aside from Matthews and Hittner, the Lights got 12 points from junior Ronnie Simpson and 10 points apiece from Marcus Wilson and Yanif Ducreay.
The Eagles got 14 points from Terry Seinen, and Sam Smiley added 11 points. Houston Foote added eight points in the Eagles' second loss to Northern this season.
On Saturday night, the Lights didn't have as easy a time shaking off a hot-shooting Concordia U.C. Even though the final score of 91-68 appeared lopsided in the Lights' favor, the Thunder made 13 3-pointers, including three treys in the first four minutes of the second half.
That shooting spurt cut Northern's halftime lead of 45-33 down to 48-44 with just over 14 minutes remaining in the game.
“You have to give those guys a lot of credit,” Huse said of Concordia. “They shot the lights out on us from the 3-point line, and I thought we were contesting their shots.”
Eventually, Northern would indeed get away from the pesky Thunder. The Lights ripped off 15 unanswered points from the 13- minute mark to the eight-minute mark to lead 69-48 and put the Thunder away for good.
The run was sparked by the play of Simpson, who wound up scoring a season-high 25 points. The junior buried three 3-pointers, all in the second half, and made 5- of-6 free throws down the stretch to put the game on ice. During the final stretch of the game, the Lights also got a helping hand from little-used senior Pathe Yatera. The 6-6 forward from Paris, France, scored a season-high 11 points and yanked down eight rebounds, most of which came in the final 10 minutes of the second half.
“Pathe did a fantastic job of coming off the bench,” Huse said. “He gave us a big lift when we needed it, and we're going to need more of that from him as the season goes on.”
The Lights also got 14 points from Wilson and another 13 from Matthews in the win over Concordia. Hittner also had another solid night, scoring 10 points, as well as dishing out seven assists.
In other action during the tournament, Rocky Mountain College defeated both Concordia U.C. on Friday and The Kings University on Saturday night.
Northern (10-3) will be back in action Friday when the Lights travel to California to take on top-ranked and unbeaten Azusa Pacific. The Lights will face Concordia College on Saturday night, also in California.
Lights 88, Eagles 57
TKUC - Jeff Janzen 7, Terry Seinen 14, Joel Kelly 7, Vince Akinyonde 3, Judd Payne 5, Sam Smiley 11, Aron Balakrishnan 2, Houston Foote 8. Totals: 21-54 12-18 57.
MSU-N - Marcus Wilson 10, Yanif Ducreay 10, Jordan Matthews 31, Nick Hittner 18, Brian Erickson 2, Cody Gillespie 3, Ronnie Simpson 12, Adrian Nelson 2. Totals: 39-63 6-13 88.
3-point goals - TKUC 3-12 (Akinyonde 1, Payne 1, Smiley 1), MSU-N 4-9 (Matthews 1, Hittner 2, Gillespie 1); Rebounds - TKUC 25, MSU-N 41; Total Fouls - TKUC 14, MSU-N 13; Fouled out - None.
Lights 91, Thunder 68
CUCA - Michael Szynkowski 7, Adamm Hajdarevic 32, Paul Kuperus 16, Wesley McConnell 3, Trevor Dreger 2, Naim Cardinal 3, Mike Danderfer 3, Reid Fralick 3. Totals: 20-48 15-19 68.
MSU-N - Marcus Wilson 14, Yanif Ducreay 4, Jordan Matthews 13, Nick Hittner 10, Brian Erickson 8, Cody Gillespie 2, Ronnie Simpson 25, Adrian Nelson 4, Pathe Yatera 11. Totals: 36-57 11-16 91.