Havre Daily News sports editor
Two consecutive road losses usually spell disaster in college basketball, but that wasn't the case for the Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team this weekend in Los Angeles.
Even though the Lights dropped games to two top-ranked NAIA schools in Azusa Pacific University and Concordia College, Northern head coach Shawn Huse said his team returned home with more confidence than it had when it left.
“I thought we played two really good games against two very good teams that are nationally ranked,” Huse said. “Oddly enough, I think we as a coaching staff and all of our players gained a ton of confidence this weekend.”
On Friday night the Lights battled No. 1-ranked Azusa Pacific University right down to the wire before losing, 61-57. Northern led most of the way and trailed by just two points with 10 seconds left in the game. The Lights had a good look at an open 3-pointer to win the game, but never got the shot off.
“We played very well in that game,” Huse said. “I was really proud of the way our kids played for the entire game.
“We held the lead most of the way,” he added. “But Azusa Pacific is a very good team and they are very tough on their home floor. In the end they chased us down and beat us right at the end of the game.”
The Lights' efforts were aided by the continued stellar play of Ronnie Simpson. The junior college transfer led Northern in scoring with 15 points. Senior Marcus Wilson added 13 points and 12 rebounds, and Jordan Matthews dropped in 10 points.
On Saturday the Lights had to turn around and face another top-five team in Concordia College of Minnesota. Although Northern fell by an 89-71 score, Huse was again pleased with his team's play, especially since the Lights lost Matthews to a leg injury midway through the first half.
“I don't think the score was indicative of how we played against Concordia,” Huse said. “We played very well most of the way and we were short-handed for most of the game.
“They are another very good team,” he added. “They are very physical and they just wore us down toward the end of the game."
Northern trailed the Eagles by less than 10 points for most of the contest. But Concordia was able to pull away late, making 12-of-15 free throws to ice the game.
Simpson was again spectacular in a losing effort. He scored a game-high 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
“Ronnie is a guy who is just getting better every game,” Huse said. “I think that shows in how he played this weekend. He was a force offensively against two very good defensive teams.”
Northern also got 18 points from Cory Brothers and 11 off the bench from Nick Hittner.
While Northern returns to Havre with a 10-5 record, it will have to deal with the loss of Matthews, although Huse isn't sure of the extent of the injury or how long his leading scorer will be out of action.
“We'll have him evaluated this week,” Huse said. “Right now we just don't really know.”
Northern will be back in action Dec. 31 when it hosts the University of Lethbridge.
Azusa Pacific 61, MSU-Northern 57
MSU-N - Marcus Wilson 13, Yanif Ducreay 5, Jordan Matthews 10, Cory Brothers 6, Brian Erickson 4, Cody Gillespie 3, Ronnie Simpson 15, Pathe Yatera 1, Totals: 23-59 6-11 57.
APU - Lance Soderberg 7, Demario Butler 10, Brice Prather 8, Josh Reisman 6, Mike Hornbuckle 10, Scott Zea 13, Colton Cornfoot 2, Tristan King 3, Matt Oliver 2. Totals: 23-53 10-22 61.
3-point goals - MSU-N 5-13 (Simpson 1, Gillespie 1, Matthews 2, Brothers 1), APU - 5-14 (Reisman 1, Hornbuckle 2, Zea 2); Rebounds - MSU-N 49, APU 30; Total fouls - MSU-N 18, APU 12; Fouled out - none.
Concordia 89, MSU-Northern 71
MSU-N - Marcus Wilson 6, Yanif Ducreay 2, Jordan Matthews 0, Cory Brothers 18, Brian Erickson 9, Nick Hittner 11, Cody Gillespie 5, Ronnie Simpson. Totals: 30-62 8-14 71.
CC - Joe Roberson 18, Levi Luster 13, Josh Kramer 8, Rocky Soliday Adam Greenaway 4, Steve Coulter 9, Matt Nunez 9, Nate Klitzing 2, Kyle Huggett 15, Levi Pulley 2. Totals: 31-65 20-30 89.
3-point goals - MSU-N - 3-13 (Brothers 1, Hittner 1, Simpson 1), CC 7-20 (Roberson 1, Luster 3, Kramer 2, Soliday 1). Rebounds - MSU-N 34, CC 43; Total fouls - MSU-N 22, CC 22; Fouled out - Simpson.