By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
Not many teams would schedule the MSU-Billings men's basketball team in the midst of their conference season. The Yellowjackets are a perennial power in the Pac-West Conference.
But not many teams are like the MSU-Northern men's basketball team. The Lights got some added game experience, some money and, most important of all, some preparation for the upcoming Frontier Conference Tournament in a 94-69 loss in Billings on Thursday night.
"It's a situation where you get to play a good Division II school, which helps make you better and you get some added money for the program," said Lights head coach Shawn Huse. "We can't be afraid to play a good team now. It's not like we aren't going to see good teams at the conference tourney."
While the game had no bearing on the Lights' conference record, it did offer them a chance to face some good competition on the road, which is always important for Northern.
"We got to play a lot of our kids and work on some things," Huse said. "We played really well in the first half and really played the type of basketball we were looking for."
Indeed, Northern slowed down a potent Jacket offensive attack that averages over 90 points per game with solid defense in the first half.
MSU-Billings managed just 36 first-half points. It left the Lights trailing 36-33 at halftime with definite hopes to win the game.
"We did a great job defensively," Huse said. "To hold them to 36 points is an accomplishment, considering how good they are offensively. We also did a nice job taking care of the basketball."
Northern actually grabbed a second half lead, after scoring the first six points after halftime. However, the Jackets answered with a barrage of 3-pointers to take the lead and push the lead to 20.
"The 3-point shot is a big part of their offense," Huse said. "They shoot it often, they shoot it from deep, they shoot it out of transition and every one of their player can shoot it."
The Yellowjackets made 17 of a whopping 49 attempted 3-point shots. Offensively, Northern wasn't quite as sharp in the second half.
"We just had too many costly turnovers and missed shots in the second half," Huse said. "It didn't allow us to control the tempo like we did in the first half."
Marcus Wilson had his best game in recent weeks with 16 points, while Cory Brothers added 13.
"Marcus' knee is starting to feel much stronger and it showed tonight," Huse said. "It's big because we need his presence inside."
The Lights played without starting forward Reid Stovall, who missed the game because of pneumonia.
"We gave Reid a day to just rest," Huse said. "I think its really going to help him to just recover and feel a little better."
Northern's depth took a hit as guard Rodrick Carter and forward Dan Brigham have left the team.
The loss dropped Northern's record to 12-16. The Lights are in the midst of a seven-game losing streak and a seven-game conference road losing streak.
The Lights will get a chance to put an end to both on Saturday night when they travel to Great Falls to face the University of Great Falls Argos (2-11, 5-24) in their final game of the regular season at the McLaughlin Center on the UGF campus.
"We're definitely going to go down there and give everything we got," Huse said. "We play every game to win. It doesn't matter that we know where we are seeded."
Barring a minor miracle or catastrophe, depending on the point of view, Northern will be finish the season in sixth place in the standings and go into the tournament as the sixth seed.
"I'm 90 percent sure that we have all of the tiebreakers if Tech ends up tying with us," Huse said.
Even with their conference tourney spot determined, Huse and his team want this win to gain some confidence and momentum for next week. The first conference road win of the season would add plenty of each.
"Absolutely, we want to get a road win in conference," Huse said. "It something that would go a long ways in helping us with our confidence playing on the road."
Despite roughing up UGF 72-51 in Havre earlier this season, Huse knows there are no free wins for his team.
"Great Falls is more than capable of beating us and a lot of other teams in the conference," Huse said. "They played Westminster and Western really tough and beat Tech handily. They are a dangerous team."
The Argos are dangerous squad filled with athleticism, speed and quickness. Although they did take a hit as starting point guard James Edwards left the team last week. Edwards' status is still unknown for the game.
It is a definite loss considering he is UGF's leading scorer at 14 points per game. He also leads the team in assists and steals.
"He's an integral part of their team," Huse said. "If he's not playing its definitely going to hurt them a little."
UGF still has solid players in forwards Anthony Owens and Rico Suazo, while guard Aron Cline, Todd Tomlinson and J.P. Geniesse are also solid contributors.
"They've had a lot of tough close losses like us," Huse said. "I think both teams are coming with a nothing-to-lose attitude."
The Lights and Argos will tip off at 8 p.m. and can be heard locally on 92.5 KPQX-FM.
MSU-Billings 94, MSU-Northern 69
Landen Grant 3-7 2-4 8, Marcus Wilson 7-14 2-3 16, Tim Hutchins 3-5 0-0 6, Jordan Matthews 3-9 0-0 7, Leo Bullchild 1-6 0-0 3, Cory Brothers 5-10 3-6 13, Antonio Jordan 3-5 2-2 9, Cody Gillespie 2-6 0-0 4, Ed Lowe 0-0 0-0 0, Pathe Yatera 1-1 1-2 3. Totals: 28-63 8-13 69
Justin Hassell 6-14 9-11 21, Buddy Windy Boy 4-11 0-0 11, Cody Samuelson 0-1 0-0 0, Carlin Hughes 10-19 3-6 29, Cameron Munoz 8-21 1-1 23, Kerington Youmans 1-3 0-2 3, Drew Arnold 2-2 0-0 5, Jay Jamieson 0-1 2-2 2. Totals: 31-72 15-22 94.
Halftime - MSU-B 36, MSU-N 33. 3-point goals: MSU-N 5-17 (Grant 2-4, Jordan 1-2, Matthews 1-3, Bullchild 1-3, Gillespie 0-1, Brothers 0-4); MSU-B 17-49 (Munoz 6-16, Hughes 6-15, Windy Boy 3-9, Arnold 1-1 , Youmans 1-3, Hassell 0-4). Rebounds: MSU-N 39 (Grant 8); MSU-B 45 (Hassell 9). Assists: MSU-N 13 (Grant 4); MSU-B 13 (Hughes 7). Turnovers: MSU-N 14, MSU-B 6. Team Fouls: MSU-N 17; MSU-B 14. Technical Fouls: Munoz. Fouled out: Jordan.