Havre Daily News sports editor
Friday night was a tale of two different halves for the Montana State University-Northern Lights. But what mattered most at the end of the Lights' nonconference battle with Dickinson State University was the final score.
The Lights sizzled in the first half and fizzled for most of the second, allowing the Blue Hawks to mount a furious rally. In the end, sophomore Cory Brothers' two free throws with 26 seconds remaining in the game were enough to sink the Blue Hawks, 77-76, snapping the Lights' three-game losing streak.
“I'm always happy when we get a win,” MSU-N head coach Shawn Huse said. “No matter how you get it done, it is a good thing when you beat a very good team like Dickinson State.
“I was really happy with how we finished,” Huse said. “You always believe you can close a team out, but until you're faced with a situation where you actually have to do it, you never really know. And our guys were able to get it done.”
Friday night's game was one of streaks. Northern dominated the first half via runs of 11-0 early and 10-0 late. The first run gave the Lights a 21-8 lead, and the second put them up 36-20. Senior Jordan Matthews also started the game off with some hot shooting, as the Lights wound up leading DSU, 50-37, at the half.
“I thought we came out and played really well in the first half,” Huse said. “We did some very good things defensively, and we played with a lot of emotion. And our shots were falling, which always helps.
“But we went through a stretch in the second half where we went cold shooting the ball,” he added. “And you have to give Dickinson a lot of credit. They did a great job of coming back on us.”
Indeed, the Lights shot 49 percent from the field in the first half as opposed to 39 percent in the second. Dickinson took advantage by ripping off seven unanswered points to start the second half.
Later, the Blue Hawks ran off another 12 unanswered points. And when Donny English hit a 15-foot jumper with 3:21 remaining in the game, the Blue Hawks had their first lead since 46 seconds into the game at 74-73.
From there, defense played a huge factor in the final minutes of the tightly contested game. English drilled another shot to put DSU up 76-73. But Northern got back within one point when Ronnie Simpson hit two free throws with less than two minutes remaining.
The two teams traded possessions without any success until the final 23 seconds, when Brothers was fouled after a DSU missed shot. He calmly sank both foul shots to give the Lights a one-point lead, 77-76. DSU had two final attempts to win the game, but Chad Glasser's shot came up short, and English's putback attempt came after the final buzzer had sounded.
“Cory took a big step as a basketball player by making those two free throws,” Huse said. “That isn't an easy thing to do when you're an underclassman and a college basketball game is on the line.”
Simpson and Marcus Wilson led all scorers with 20 points apiece. Simpson also had six assists and eight rebounds to cap an outstanding night for the junior.
“Ronnie really stepped up and carried us for a few possessions when we were having trouble scoring,” Huse said. “He is a perfect example of how our depth can help us win games. And we are going to need contributions from our bench every night if we are going to have a good year.”
Matthews tapered off in the second half, but still managed 15 points, including three 3-pointers. Brothers finished the night with 12 points and eight boards.
Like the first meeting between the two schools, DSU was balanced offensively. Glasser led the way with 16 points. The Blue Hawks got 12 points from Ryan Rostvold and 10 from English.
“They are a very good team and they are going to have a great season in their league,” Huse said of DSU. “But I am really happy to see our guys perform well down the stretch, and in crunch time they found a way to win, even when the shots weren't falling for us.”
The win over the Blue Hawks gets MSU-N back on the winning track and the team is now 8-3 overall. The Lights will travel to Boise, Idaho, for an exhibition game on Sunday against Division I-A Boise State University.
Lights 77, Blue Hawks 76
DSU - Omar Smith 1-2 0-0 2, Chad Glasser 4-12 7-8 16, Denver Bethel 1-3 0-2 2, Derek Miller 3-4 2-2 8, Cory Wehr 2-2 0-0 4, Donny English 3-5 4-5 10, Brandon Tillman 4-9 0-0 9, Tony Alexander 1-1 0-0 2, Drew Erhardt 2-4 0-0 5, Ryan Rostvold 3-7 5-5 12, Cordero Seymour 3-6 2-3 6. Totals: 27-55 18-25 76
MSU-N - Marcus Wilson 9-12 2-2 20, Yanif Ducreay 1-1 0-0 2, Jordan Matthews 6-17, 0-1 15, Cory Brothers 4-8 3-3 12, Brian Erickson 1-3 1-3 3, Reid Stovall 2-7 1-2 5, Ronnie Simpson 6-11 6-8 20. Totals: 29-64 13-19 77.
3-point goals - DSU 4-13 (Glasser 1, Tillman 1, Erhardt 1, Rostvold 1) MSU-N 6-20 (Matthews 3, Brothers 1, Simpson 2); Rebounds - DSU 33, MSU-N 38; Total fouls - DSU 21, MSU-N 18; Fouled out - none.