By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
The search for the first road win for the Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team will have to wait a few more weeks. The Lights dropped two tough Frontier Conference games this past weekend, one in heartbreaking fashion.
Northern missed out on a golden opportunity to notch its first conference road win, while Montana Tech earned its first conference win of any type with a 73-71 win at the HPER Complex in Butte.
The Lights appeared poised to put the game away, leading 71-70 with less than 30 seconds remaining and freshman Ed Lowe at the line shooting two free throws.
But as has been the case all season for Northern, the free throws were far from free. Lowe missed both attempts, which gave the Orediggers one last chance.
Tech point guard Luke Harman was fouled on the ensuing possession and he sank two free throws with 14.6 seconds remaining to give Tech a one-point lead.
The Lights called timeout following Harman's big free throws, giving the them one last possession with 11.7 seconds remaining. Northern head coach Shawn Huse set up a final play. However, it never came to fruition, as Jordan Matthews got caught on the sideline and lost the ball out of bounds with 1.5 seconds remaining.
"We had a set play, but we didn't execute it right," Huse said. "All it takes is one or two guys to miss an assignment for the whole play to fall apart, which is what happened."
Northern was forced to foul on the inbounds and Tech's Kellen Ori sank the first free throw and missed the second on purpose so time could expire.
Still it wasn't just the last sequence of events that hurt Northern. The Lights put themselves in an early hole, as Harman, who returned the night before after missing several games with a knee injury, spurred a solid start for Tech.
The Diggers raced out to an early lead with Harman pushed the tempo and Tech getting several easy baskets in transition. Coupled with Davin Blixt's five 3-pointers and Northern's cold shooting, the Diggers took a 39-27 halftime lead.
"The transition baskets didn't make me very happy. That is something that we shouldn't give up," Huse said. "Offensively, we had good looks and open shots; they just weren't going in. That just puts a lot of pressure on us defensively."
But things changed early in the second half. The Lights erased the 12-point halftime deficit with a 10-4 run, sparked by four consecutive buckets from Marcus Wilson. Northern tied the game for the first time at 63 on Landen Grant 3-pointer.
From there, the teams traded baskets and leads, until Blixt converted a four-point play and sank another 3-pointer to put Tech up 68-63 late in the game. Northern answered the rally, surprisingly from the free-throw line, scoring five points and taking the brief lead.
"We did some things late in the game that really hurt us," Huse said. "We committed some silly fouls, like on the 3-pointer, and missed some free throws. You just can't do those things on the road and expect to win."
Blixt led Tech with 20 points and six assists, while Harman had 17, including nine of Tech's last 14.
"Harman definitely makes a them a better team," Huse said. "He's a very capable point guard and really makes a difference with how they play."
Wilson finished with 16 points, despite injuring his ankle in the first half. Matthews added 11,while Grant and Rodrick Carter chipped in with 10 each.
"You know we're in the situation where a lot of these kids haven't been in these situations late in the game at this level," Huse said. "Really, I thought we played well enough defensively to win, but we just didn't do what we needed to offensively to close them out."
Things didn't get much better for Northern on Saturday in Dillon. The Lights ran into an offensive resurgence from perhaps the conference player of the year in a 77-66 loss to the UM-Western Bulldogs.
Senior transfer Matt Luedtke broke out of a recent offensive funk in a big way, hitting four three-pointers in the game's opening minutes, staking the Bulldogs to an early lead and propelling them to the win.
Luedtke, who scored 41 points on the Lights in Havre, finished with 23 first-half points, as Western took a 39-28 halftime lead. The rest of the Bulldogs weren't exactly on fire, scoring just 16 points in the first half.
"It seems to be our misfortune," Huse said. "Luedtke hadn't been shooting well in the past few games and you knew he was due to break out. You just wish he could have picked another night to do it.
"It's no exaggeration to say that we were draped on him, but he just hit some impossible shots. He's a great player."
Despite Luedtke's first-half explosion, Northern wasn't out of the game. The Lights tightened up defensively, forcing Western, even Luedtke, into cold shooting and turnovers. Northern used the defensive stops, and solid play from Wilson and Matthews, to get back into the game. A pair of Matthews' free throws tied the game at 48 with 12 minutes remaining.
However, Matt Cornelius answered for Western with a score and the Bulldogs would never trail again. Western steadily pulled away, using near perfect free-throw shooting and two timely 3-pointers to get the win. The Bulldogs sank 23 of 25 free throws in the game, including 9-10 in the second half.
"We got into foul trouble and started sending them to the line," Huse said. "They don't miss many free throws. But I really credit our kids, because they could have folded the tents after the tough first half, but they didn't. We gave ourselves a chance to win."
Luedtke finished with 30 points to lead the Bulldogs. Tyler Palmer came off the bench to score 23 points, while Bo Segeberg added 10 points and eight rebounds.
Wilson scored 21 points to again lead the Lights. Matthews added 20 and Leo Bullchild had 10.
"Marcus really gutted it out this weekend, because he was in some pain," Huse said. "He practices so hard and really works at everything we do and it shows in games."
With the losses, Northern falls to 3-6 in Frontier Conference and 12-11 overall. But Huse isn't ready panic.
"Basically, we are three made free throws away from being in third place," he said. "We're right there. Offensively, we don't score enough points to blow teams out, so we are going to be in some close games. Hopefully, this weekend will help us in the future, because I see good things for this team."
MONTANA TECH 73, MSU-NORTHERN 71
MSU-NORTHERN (3-5, 12-10)
Reid Stovall 2-7 3-5 7, Marcus Wilson 8-14 0-0 16, Jordan Matthews 3-11 4-5 11, Landen Grant 4-8 0-0 10, Leo Bullchild 2-2 0-0 6, Rodrick Carter 3-5 3-3 10, Cory Brothers 0-3 0-1 0, Antonio Jordan 0-3 1-2 1, Cody Gillespie 1-1 1-2 4, Ed Lowe 0-0 0-2 0, Tim Hutchins 0-1 0-0 0, Dan Brigham 3-4 0-0 6. Totals 26-59 12-18 71.
MONTANA TECH (1-7, 6-18)
Luke Harman 6-9 3-3 17, Davin Blixt 6-17 2-3 20, Casey Briggs 5-6 1-2 11, Andy Anderson 3-3 1-3 7, Kellen Ori 3-6 3-4 9, Jon Cleveland 1-3 0-0 2, Robbie Redekopp 0-1 0-0 0, Kenny Herbst 2-2 3-6 7. Totals 26-47 13-21 73.
Halftime: Tech 39, MSU-N 27. 3-point goals: MSU-N 7-20 (Matthews 1-4, Grant 2-5, Bullchild 2-2, Carter 1-2, Brothers 0-3, Gillespie 1-1), Tech 8-20 (Harman 2-3, Blixt 6-13, Ori 0-1, Cleveland 0-2, Redekopp 0-1). Rebounds: MSU-N 25 (Stovall 7), Tech 36 (Briggs 9). Assists: MSU-N 12 (Matthews 5), Tech 16 (Blixt 6). Steals: MSU-N 10 (Jordan 3), Tech 4 (Blixt 2). Turnovers: MSU-N 13, Tech 23. Total fouls: MSU-N 19, Tech 17. Fouled out: none. Technicals: none.
UM-WESTERN 77, MSU-NORTHERN 66
MSU-NORTHERN (12-11, 3-6)
Reid Stovall 1-7 2-4 4; Marcus Wilson 10-13 1-1 21; Jordan Matthews 8-21 3-3 20; Landen Grant 1-3 0-0 3; Leo Bullchild 4-10 0-0 10; Rodrick Carter 1-6 0-0 2; Cory Brothers 0-2 4-4 4; Cody Gillespie 0-2 0-0 0; Dan Brigham 1-3 0-0 2. Totals: 26-67 10-12 66.
UM-WESTERN (17-8, 6-3)
Brandon Day 2-4 0-0 4; Bo Segeberg 4-6 2-3 10; Derek Hibbert 0-2 2-2 2; Jeff Graham 0-3 4-5 4; Matt Luedtke 8-25 8-8 30; Chad Myers 0-1 0-0 0; Tyler Palmer 6-12 7-7 23; Matt Cornelius 2-2 0-0 4. Totals: 22-55 23-25 77.
Halftime score: UM-W 39, MSU-N 28. 3-point goals: MSU-N 4-21 (Matthews 1-7, Grant 1-3, Bullchild 2-5, Carter 0-4, Brothers 0-1, Gillespie 0-1), UM-W 10-29 (Day 0-1, Graham 0-3, Luedtke 6-17, Myers 0-1, Palmer 4-7). Rebounds: MSU-N 42 (Matthews 11, Stovall 7); UM-W 35 (Segeberg 8, Hibbert 7) Assists: MSU-N 9 (Stovall 3, Carter 3); UM-W 8 (Palmer 3, Cornelius 3). Turnovers: MSU-N 17, UM-W 16. Total fouls: MSU-N 22, UM-W 11. Fouled out: none; Technicals: none.