By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
It's tough to imagine the Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team playing much better than it did two weeks ago in its 64-54 upset win over then eighth-ranked Lewis-Clark State.
But for the Lights to pick up their first Frontier Conference road win of the season, head coach Shawn Huse believes his team must play even better.
Northern will get that chance when it faces Montana Tech tonight at the HPER Complex on the Tech campus at 8 p.m. and UM-Western on Saturday in Dillon also at 8.
"It's always a different game on the road," he said. "You have to be 10 points better than you would be at home because you're facing a lot more adversity."
Northern's first conference road trip wasn't exactly perfect. The Lights suffered a close loss to Rocky Mountain College and were blown out by Carroll College.
"I hope they saw that it went from tough to tougher," Huse said. "It's a matter of being twice as focused and twice as prepared because its twice as difficult to win."
It will even be twice as difficult against a Tech team that is 0-7 in conference and 5-18 overall. One of those losses was a 68-57 loss to Northern on Jan. 8 in Havre.
"I really think we were a step slow defensively and not very crisp offensively when we played Tech earlier," Huse said. "I honestly think our guys were still struggling emotionally from the heart-breaking loss to Western the night before."
This time around, there will be no game the night before, so Huse is expected improved efforts on both ends.
"We should come out with a lot of good energy and in a positive from of mind," Huse said. "I expect us to be much sharper on both ends of the floor. We need to be."
Indeed, if Northern comes out flat, Tech is more than capable of picking up its first league win tonight.
The Diggers were hampered by injuries when they came to Havre. Tech was missing starters Luke Harman and Jake Williams in the first meeting, both players will be back along with shooting guard Davin Blixt to give the Diggers a solid core of players.
Blixt is second in the conference in scoring at 20.5 points per game. He has made a league-high 112 3-pointers on the season. Harman is adding 11.9 points, 4.8 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game from his point guard position, while Williams chips in with 8.1 points and 3.8 rebounds a game.
"Tech has very capable players that can score inside and out," Huse said. "They also play very well at home so we need to come out ready."
Being ready shouldn't be a problem on Saturday night against Western. Perhaps no loss was more painful than the 89-80 overtime loss to the Bulldogs on Jan. 7 in Havre.
Northern played some of its best basketball of the season, but couldn't win the game. It's a loss that probably won't soon be forgotten.
"I think our guys are pretty hungry to play Western again," Huse said. "They're competitive kids and they didn't really like the fact that Western snuck out of our gym with a win."
For the Lights to sneak out of Dillon with a win, they will have to find a way to slow down the highest-scoring team in the conference.
Western averages 85 points per game and has a wide array of weapons, starting with shooting guard Matt Luedtke.
He is averaging 23.1 points per game, which leads the Frontier and ranks third in NAIA Division I. Luedtke introduced himself to Northern with a 41-point performance, single-handedly getting the Bulldogs into overtime and then winning it in the extra period. Luedtke has been a bit of a shooting slump lately, but Huse is taking nothing for granted.
"We obviously want to defend him like he's capable of doing it again," Huse said. "We've seen him do it first-hand. I thought we did a good job of defending him, but he hit some tough shots."
But the Bulldogs have more than just Luedtke. Center Bo Segeberg is third in the Frontier in scoring at 19.1 points per game and first in rebounding at 8.9 rebounds a game. Reserve guard Tyler Palmer comes off the bench to score 14 points per game.
"There's no doubt they have plenty weapons on the floor," Huse said. "And they've proven they can score. But I though we did a decent job of defending the first game. We held them to 71 points in regulation, which should have been good enough to win."
Huse knows the it will be even tougher test for his defensive minded squad this time around.
"We've been playing good defense lately," Huse said. "But when you're on the road, you have to play great defense."
Northern will also have to be a little better offensively to keep pace with the potent Bulldogs. The Lights haven't shot particularly well in road games this season, but Huse is looking for a change in that road production with a change in philosophy.
"We need to get some buckets inside early, whether its off of cuts or post ups, to give us some confidence," he said. "We can't fall in love with the 3-point shot."