By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
The Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team will have to wait another year to pick up a Frontier Conference road win.
The Lights squandered a perfect opportunity on Saturday night in a 73-68 loss to the University of Great Falls at a packed McLaughlin Center on the UGF campus.
Northern finished the season 0-7 in conference road games and not much better in all road games in general.
And, as in most of those losses, the Lights had ample opportunities to get a win.
Northern jumped out to an early lead in the first half and led 37-31 at halftime. But head coach Shawn Huse could only look at the lead and know that it could have been more.
"We played really well in the first half, but I really think our lead could have been bigger had they not shot so many free throws."
Indeed, UGF didn't just attempt a lot of free throws, they made a lot. The Argos sank 18 of 23 foul shots in the first half - more points than they scored off field goals (6-22).
"It seemed like every time they drove to the basket, we picked up a foul," Huse said. "The free throws hurt us and it also put us into some early foul trouble."
In the second half, Northern committed some early turnovers to allow UGF back into the game. The Argos took the lead with about seven minutes to go and the two teams proceeded to change leads.
However, the combination of Lights mistakes and UGF free throws and timely shooting did Northern in.
"We committed some costly turnovers down the stretch," Huse said. "And all of our guards were in such bad foul trouble that it made it tough to defend. But give Great Falls credit. They really came ready to play and stepped up and hit some big shots."
The Argos shot a solid 57 percent in the second half, while hitting 15 of 19 free throws and three of four 3-point shots.
For the game, UGF made 33 of 42 foul shots, while Northern attempted just 19 free throws, making 10.
"They shoot 42 free throws and we only shoot 19. It's pretty tough to beat anyone with those numbers," Huse said. "I really don't know if we were reaching too much or out of position, but it seemed like anything we did defensively was a foul. I will have to look at the tape and see what we were doing wrong."
But the fouls weren't all that Northern was doing wrong. The Lights committed a costly 20 turnovers, many coming on key possessions in key situations.
"We hurt ourselves with some bad turnovers and bad decisions," Huse said. "We just didn't play very smart at times."
Great Falls, which improved to 6-24 overall and 3-11 in the Frontier Conference, had three players in double figures, led by John Chapman's 16 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. Senior J.P. Geniesse had 15 points, while Anthony Owens added 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Jordan Matthews led Northern with 19 points, including four 3-pointers. Freshmen Cory Brothers and Cody Gillespie came off the bench to score 10 points each.
The loss drops Northern's record to 3-11 in conference and 12-17 overall. Although the Lights and Argos have identical conference records, Northern will be the sixth seed for this week's Frontier Conference Tournament. The Lights will take on third-seeded Lewis-Clark State on Thursday at 2 p.m. at the new Maroon Activity Center in Butte.