By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
The best word Montana State University-Northern men's basketball coach Shawn Huse could come up with was resiliency.
After dropping a frustrating 64-54 decision to Westminster College on Friday night, the Lights showed a little bit of the r-word with a 58-56 upset of the ninth-ranked Lewis-Clark State Warriors in a raucous MSU-Northern gymnasium.
Northern looked poised to put the game away against LC, leading 57-52 with a minute remaining and in possession of the ball. However, a ghost came back to haunt the Lights - missed free throws. Northern's Tim Hutchins missed a pair, then Reid Stovall tracked the ball down and was fouled by LC's Martin Brothers. Stovall made one of two to push the lead to 58-52.
The Warriors cut the lead to four as Danny Allen scored on a tough shot and was fouled. He missed the subsequent free throw, but teammate James Idoko grabbed the rebound and put it back in to cut the lead to 58-56.
LC promptly fouled Northern's Leo Bullchild on the ensuing possession. Bullchild, who had attempted just 10 free throws coming into the game, missed badly on both attempts, allowing the Warriors one last possession to either win or tie the game with 15.7 seconds remaining.
Warrior head coach George Pfeiffer called for a sideline play for Brothers. But it really never materialized as Allen's entry pass to him was tipped and a mad scramble for the loose ball ensued. Northern's Marcus Wilson recovered the ball with .2 seconds remaining, securing the win.
"You always preach that defense wins games," Huse said. "But that last possession proved it. It was just all five guys hustling and scrapping and fighting for a win."
But Northern played defense for more than just the last possession. The Lights were relentless, forcing LC into 17 turnovers in the game, including seven charges, and holding them to 56 points, 17 below their scoring average.
"I didn't think we were very good offensively, especially in the first half," Pfeiffer said. "That had a lot to do with Northern and the pressure they were putting on the ball."
The Lights came out focused, taking a 12-10 lead on a Stovall putback of his own miss. From there, the Lights would never trail, keeping a four- to eight-point cushion the rest of the way.
"I was impressed with how our team bounced back," Huse said. "We showed some resiliency after three tough losses; we found a way to keep fighting."
Jordan Matthews led Northern with 15 points, while Wilson added 10. Antonio Jordan had a solid night, taking four of Northern's charges.
"Antonio has taken close to 20 charges already this season," Huse said. "I've never been around a player that has done that. He just steps in, gets absolutely level and jumps back up and does it again. It's a big boost emotionally and really gets the team going."
Lewis-Clark was led by Allen and Idoko with 12 points each. The Warriors were without starting shooting guard Joey Ray, who missed the team bus for the trip.
Huse admitted that the free-throw shooting down the stretch would be addressed, but he was more concerned with what the win will do for his team's confidence.
"I really believe that the loss to Western at home really kind of has been on the kids' back the last few weeks," he said. "Getting this win gives them confidence to know that they can win big games in this league. We feel like we can compete with anybody in the league on our home floor, especially with the support we've been getting."
Saturday's win was even more important, considering the way the Lights played on Friday in the loss to Westminster.
It wasn't that the Lights played poorly, they just didn't play to the level needed to knock off the disciplined and patient attack of the Westminster Griffins.
Northern led just once, at 4-3 about two minutes into the game.
"I think it's tough for most teams to play them," Huse said. "They have very smart players who are disciplined and know how to run their sets."
As good as the Lights were defensively, the Griffins seemed to be one step ahead with a myriad of back-door cuts for layups and uncontested 3-point shots.
"They are very hard to prepare for because there is no way to simulate their offense in practice as well as they run it in games," Huse said.
"We take the approach that we're the underdogs every time we step on the court," said Westminster head coach Tommy Connor "I really don't think we're as talented as we've been in the past, so we don't take anything for granted."
The Lights remained within in striking distance for most of the game, even cutting the lead to 41-37 with 12 minutes remaining on back-to-back buckets from Wilson.
Westminster answered with six straight points from Jared Ruiz to push the lead back to eight. The Lights made one last-ditch effort late as Matthews knocked down three 3-pointers in the remaining two minutes to get the Lights within four again, but Ruiz iced the game with a full-court layup on the next possession.
"We knew it wasn't going to be easy coming in here and getting a win," Connor said. "It never is. Northern plays extremely hard and really pressures the basketball. They are going to beat some teams on this floor."
Huse was pleased with his team's defensive effort considering Westminster's complex attack, but he wasn't pleased with his team's offensive performance, which included 36 percent shooting in the first half and 16 turnovers in the game.
"With how much time they take off the shot clock and the limited number of possessions, committing 16 turnovers is like committing 32 against another team," Huse said. "They're very tough to play from behind against. A five-point deficit feels more like a 10 because of their offense."
Ruiz led all scorers with 18 points. Danny Reeder came off the bench to score 11 points, and Matt Mark added 10 for Westminster.
Matthews led the Lights with 17 points, while Wilson added 10 points and eight rebounds.
"Defensively, I think we're a strong team and our offense is coming along," Huse said. "It seems like we've had a lot to hang our heads about, but we haven't. We just keep fighting and scrapping."
Northern will return to action on Saturday when it hosts Great Falls.
WESTMINSTER 64, MSU-NORTHERN 54
WESTMINSTER (13-7, 3-1)
Nick Booth 2-4 1-3 5; Matt Mark 4-7 2-2 10; Steve Cramer 1-2 0-0 3; Jared Ruiz 8-13 0-0 18; Shane Humphreys 0-6 5-6 5; Robby Holcombe 1-1 0-0 3; Danny Reeder 5-8 0-0 11; Ryan Olson 1-3 1-2 4; Nick Buroker 2-3 0-0 5. Totals: 24-47 9-13 64.
MSU-NORTHERN (10-9, 1-4)
Reid Stovall 2-5 3-4 7; Marcus Wilson 5-9 0-0 10; Jordan Matthews 5-11 2-2 17; Landen Grant 1-2 0-0 2; Leo Bullchild 2-3 0-0 5; Cory Brothers 0-3 0-0 0; Antonio Jordan 2-5 0-0 5; Cody Gillespie 1-2 0-0 2; Ed Lowe 0-1 0-0 0; Tim Hutchins 0-1 0-0 0; Dan Brigham 2-3 2-2 6. Totals: 20-45 7-8 54.
Halftime score: WC 31, MSU-N 23. Three-point goals: WC 7-16 (Cramer 1-1, Ruiz 2-3, Humphreys 0-5, Holcombe 1-1, Reeder 1-1, Olson 1-3, Buroker 1-2), MSU-N 7-17 (Jordan Matthews 5-7, Bullchild 1-2, Brothers 0-3, Jordan 1-4, Lowe 0-1). Rebounds: WC 27 (Mark 6, Booth 5); MSU-N 25 (Wilson 8) Assists: WC 15 (Mark 4, Humphreys 4); MSU-N 10 (Jordan 3). Turnovers: WC 12, MSU-N 16. Total fouls: WC 14, MSU-N 15. Fouled out: none; Technicals: none.
MSU-NORTHERN 58, LEWIS-CLARK ST. 56
LEWIS-CLARK ST. (16-5, 4-1)
John Moore 4-9 0-0 8; James Idoko 4-5 4-5 12; Martin Brothers 4-5 1-3 9; Danny Allen 5-11 0-1 12; Spencer Bishop 0-4 2-2 2; Skyler Wilson 2-4 0-0 5; Chris Pitts 1-2 0-0 2; Jared Tikker 3-5 0-0 6. Totals: 23-45 7-11 56.
MSU-NORTHERN (11-9, 2-4)
Reid Stovall 3-8 1-2 7; Marcus Wilson 5-9 0-0 10; Jordan Matthews 5-11 2-3 15; Landen Grant 2-6 0-0 6; Leo Bullchild 4-7 0-2 8; Cory Brothers 1-6 0-2 4; Antonio Jordan 0-1 0-0 0; Tim Hutchins 0-0 2-4 2; Dan Brigham 3-4 0-0 6. Totals: 23-52 6-13 58.
Halftime score: MSU-N 28, LCSC 23. Three-point goals: LCSC 3-9 (Allen 2-7, Bishop 0-1, Wilson 1-1), MSU-N 6-17 (Matthews 3-6, Grant 2-4, Bullchild 0-1, Brothers 0-1, Jordan 0-1). Rebounds: LCSC 30 (Idoko 8, Brothers 8); MSU-N 29 (Brigham 7, Stovall 6) Assists: LCSC 5 (Allen 2, Bishop 2); MSU-N 15 (Bullchild 5). Turnovers: LCSC 17, MSU-N 11. Total fouls: LCSC 15, MSU-N 13. Fouled out: none; Technicals: none.