George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Christmas is still a week away, but the holiday break is essentially over for the Montana State University-Northern men’s basketball team. Starting tonight with a home game against NCAA Division II Dixie State College, the Lights (7-4) will play four challenging games to close out both the month of December and their nonconference season. There is no bigger challenge in those four games than tonight’s battle with Dixie State. The Rebels (8-5) of St. George, Utah, might only be their first year in Division II basketball, but they haven’t been playing like it. And Dixie State is especially tough on the road as evidenced by the Rebels’ four-game winning streak on the road over the last two weeks. “This might be the best team to come into our gym all season, and that includes our conference schedule,” MSU-N head coach Shawn Huse said. “These guys are the real deal. They have played a lot of road games and they have been winning on the road. They have played a lot of good teams and they seem to be getting better every game.” In their last four outings, the Rebels have beaten four NAIA schools, including Frontier Conference frontrunner Westminster College. Dixie State comes to Havre fresh off a 65-60 triumph over Carroll College in Helena on Thursday night. And Northern is the third straight stop for Dixie State in as many nights. “They are just a very good team,” Huse said. “They are very solid and very patient on offense. They play well together and they are deceptively athletic. “This is going to be a big challenge for us,” he added. “But it’s one we’re excited about.” The Rebels are indeed solid, both on the perimeter and in the paint. Ryan Sanchez, a 6-4 shooting guard and Johnny Little, a 6-2 sharpshooter, lead the team offensively. But the Rebels also get good offensive punch from point guard Dan Stock and 6-6 forward Troy Randall. Dixie State usually runs a natural four-guard offense, but all four guards are athletic and can play various positions on the floor. “They can do a lot of different things offensively,” Huse said. “Their point guard takes care the of ball, but he also shoots the three very well. They have good outside shooters, but they can go into Randle, who does a really nice job in the paint. “Again, they are just a really solid team,” Huse added. “And they are going to present a lot of matchup problems for us.” Still, the Lights are hungry to get on the floor with the Rebels tonight. MSU-N hasn’t played since the Lights won two convincing games in the AmericInn Classic on Dec. 1-2 in Havre. And while matchup problems might occur on the defensive end of the floor for MSU-N, Dixie State will have to contend with a versatile Lights’ lineup as well. MSU-N is getting solid offensive production from shooting guard Delvaughn Tinned, as well as reserve guard Ronnie Simpson. Northern is getting good minutes in the paint from transfers Erv Simms, Durwin Williams and Drew Pettersen. Junior Cory Brothers is also doing a lot for the Lights’ cause this season. Brothers has become MSU-N’s most reliable defensive stopper, and he is averaging nearly 10 points and four rebounds per game. “We played well the last time we were at home,” Huse said. “But this is a big step up in competition for us. It is hard to explain to people how good Dixie State is. “But I also think the layoff was good for us,” he added. “It seems like we haven’t played a game in a really long time. Our guys are excited to have this team come to our gym and I think they are hungry to get out on the floor and perform.” At about the same time the Rebels leave Havre, so will the Lights. Northern will head to Great Falls on Saturday and board a plane destined for Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where the Lights will participate in the Cruisin Classic Sunday and Monday. The Florida trip was a late addition to the Lights’ schedule after a road trip to Portland, Ore. And Tacoma, Wash., fell through at the beginning of the season. So instead of heading west for some great competition, the Lights will go to the deep south where they will face Adrian College on Sunday afternoon and No. 3 Azusa Pacific on Monday. “The two games in Florida are going to both be really challenging for our basketball team,” Huse said. “It’s a long trip and both teams we are playing down there are very good. “We played Azusa really tough in California last year,” he added. “And they might even be better this season. And Adrian College can really shoot the basketball. These games are both going to be tough, but we have played a tough schedule all season, and we’re looking forward to the trip. These games we’re playing, like all the others we have played during our nonconference season, will only benefit us when we get to our conference schedule.” Tonight’s game between MSU-N and Dixie State will tip off at 7 at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse in Havre.