Havre Daily News sports editor
It wasn't the way the Montana State University-Northern Lights wanted to send their seniors out. And it wasn't the way the Lights wanted to play their last game before the Frontier Conference tournament.
But Saturday night's regular-season finale loss to UGF was indicative of how the Lights' season has gone.
Despite a resume filled with impressive victories, Northern hasn't been a good shooting team this season, and the Lights haven't shot free throws well either.
On Saturday night, both of those factors haunted the Lights in an 81-75 loss to last-place UGF.
Northern shot a dismal 33 percent from the field in the second half, after the Lights played UGF to a 36-36 tie in the first 20 minutes. The Lights were also abysmal from the charity stripe. For the game, the Lights made just 15-of-29 free throws, and with the game on the line, MSU-N made only 10-of-21 in the second half.
“It is tough to win when you shoot the ball like that,” MSU-N head coach Shawn Huse said. “We got behind and we dug ourselves a big hole in the second half.
“And we just couldn't make a big shot or a free throw when we needed it most,” he added. “When you shoot those kinds of percentages, it is tough to come back from the deficit we were facing.”
The Lights, who have relied heavily on defense this season, couldn't get the big stop when they needed it most either. UGF's Tyrone Witherspoon put on a show in front of a large Great Falls contingent, scoring a game-high 23 points and pulling down 13 rebounds. His emphatic alley-oop dunk, which started with his own blocked shot on MSU-N's end of the floor, gave the Argos a 10-point lead with 4:22 remaining in the contest.
Northern tried to rally behind a pair of 3-pointers from Jordan Matthews and Cory Brothers, but the Lights couldn't get any closer than five points.
“Give UGF all the credit,” Huse said. “They played very well and they are a team you look at and can't believe they have only won three games in our league.
“They came in here and played with a lot of energy,” he added. “And even when it looked like we were going to make a run, they never wavered.”
UGF's Eric Scott piggybacked Witherspoon's performance with 22 points and 10 rebounds of his own. Backup point guard Scott Mount added 11 points off the bench.
The Lights got a tremendous effort from junior Marcus Wilson, who scored 19 points, and he was the one Light who couldn't be stopped. Matthews finished his senior night with 15 points, and Ronnie Simpson added 10.
The good news for Northern (7-7, 18-12) is that the Lights finished in a three-way tie for third place in the final Frontier Conference standings. The Lights will be the fourth seed at the conference tournament and will face UM-Western in the opening round.
“We didn't want to finish the regular season this way but we've got to put it behind us immediately,” Huse said. “We have to believe that this is a whole new season and that we are going to play well in the conference tournament.
“All things considered, finishing third in our league is pretty good,” he added. “Now we just have to be ready to go out and play well in Butte and we'll see what happens.”
The Lights' only chance to reach the NAIA national tournament will come via a conference championship this week. The tournament gets under way Wednesday in Butte. Northern's first-round game with Western will tip off at 8 p.m. Thursday.
Argos 81, Lights 75
UGF - Tyrone Witherspoon 9-11 4-9 23, Todd Tomlinson 3-5 0-0 6, Royce Fulp 2-3 4-5 9, Erik Scott 9-13 4-6 22, Keithan Gregg 1-3 0-0 2, Carlos Escoto 0-1 0-0 0, Scott Mount 2-5 5-6 11, Rahuan Puryear 0-3 2-2 2, Hanif Pollock 1-2 0-0 2, Chris Jensen 2-4 0-1 4. Totals: 29-50 20-28 81.
MSU-N - Reid Stovall 1-4 1-2 3, Jordan Matthews 5-15 2-5 15, Brian Erickson 2-5 1-2 5, Leo Bullchild 1-3 0-0 3, Cory Brothers 2-4 4-7 9, Marcus Wilson 8-14 3-4 19, Cody Gillespie 1-2 0-0 3, Ronnie Simpson 4-8 2-5 10, Yanif Ducreay 3-8 2-4 8. Totals: 27-63 15-29 75.
Halftime: UFG 36, MSU-N 36. 3-pointers - UGF 3-13 (Witherspoon 1-1, Fulp 1-2, Mount 1-4), MSU-N 6-18 (Matthews 3-10, Bullchild 1-3, Brothers 1-2, Gillespie 1-2). Rebounds - UGF 40 (Witherspoon 13), MSU-N 32 (Wilson 6). Total fouls -UGF 20, MSU-N 18. Fouled out: none. Technical fouls - Scott, Gregg.