Havre Daily News sports editor
The Montana State University-Northern Lights are in a shooting slump. There is no arguing that. What MSU-N head coach Shawn Huse can hope for with just two weeks left in the Frontier Conference season is that the current cold snap can somehow heat up his team.
Tonight the Lights will face the difficult task of breaking out of their offensive woes against a quality opponent in the form of the Lewis-Clark State Warriors.
Northern will also host the conference's leading team in Westminster College on Saturday night.
“The big thing for us this weekend is that we have to find a way to get things going offensively,” Huse said. “We are among the league leaders in all defensive categories. But right now we are second to last in field goal percentage, and when you shoot the ball that poorly, it's tough to win in this league.
The Lights (5-6, 16-11) are below .500 in league play for the first time all season after being swept by Carroll College and Rocky Mountain College last week. Northern is a half-game behind the Warriors for fifth place in the conference standings, so Huse knows that a win tonight would not only go a long way in the standings, but a long way for his team's psyche.
“One way or another we have to gain some confidence this weekend,” Huse said. “That will be tough to do because we are struggling offensively and we're playing two quality basketball teams.
“But our goal this weekend is just to improve,” he added. “We have to play better and gain some confidence because no matter what happens, your season isn't over until you lose at the conference tournament. And you can't go in slumping.”
The last time the Lights and Warriors hooked up, LC State crushed MSU-N, 74-41. In that game, Northern failed to break 30 percent from the field in what was the Lights' worst offensive showing of the season.
Since that time Northern's offensive woes have continued, but the Warriors have had their own troubles. LC State was forced to forfeit several early-season wins because of the use of an ineligible player.
Still, Huse said the Warriors will be a handful tonight in Havre.
“They are just a real solid team,” Huse said. “They shoot it well and they defend very well. The game will come down to who can make more shots. We played with them until we really went cold in the second half, and that is when it got away from us. So, we know we can play with them.”
Northern got 16 points from Jordan Matthews in the loss to the Warriors last month. Matthews has maintained his 16- points-per-game scoring average throughout the Lights' shooting slump. But Northern isn't getting much production elsewhere. Ronnie Simpson is the only other Light averaging in double figures, and junior center Yanif Ducreay is starting to improve on a game-by-game basis.
“Yanif is playing really well,” Huse said. “He played really well in both games last weekend. He has been especially big for us defensively, but he is also starting to come on strong on the offensive end of the floor.”
On Saturday night, Northern will welcome yet another team that gave the Lights fits earlier in the season. Westminster (8-2, 18-5) comes into Havre ranked 11th in the country and already owns a 17-point win over the Lights in Salt Lake City.
The Griffins are a half-game behind Carroll College in the Frontier Conference standing and they possess four outstanding players who are all-conference candidates.
Jared Ruiz and Nick Booth are two of the top four scorers in the league, and Brandon Scholly not only averages in double figures, but also is one of the top 3-point shooters in the nation. However, guard Danny Reeder might just be the best of the bunch, as he torched the Lights for 24 points in Salt Lake last month.
“What impresses me most about Westminster is just how talented and athletic they are,” Huse said. “That gets lost sometimes because of how skilled and fundamentally sound they are. They just have a lot of mature, well-rounded basketball players.”
Tonight's Frontier Conference game between MSU-N and LC State will get under way at 8 at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse. Saturday night's affair between the Lights and Griffins will also begin at 8 p.m.