Havre Daily News sports editor
After last weekend, it is becoming quite clear that the Montana State University-Northern Skylights have a flare for the dramatic when they play at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse.
On Friday night, the Skylights took care of No. 6 Lewis-Clark State and MSU-N senior Jaci Heny took care of a little history.
Heny scored 40 points as the Skylights upset the Warriors, 95-81. It was the second time MSU-N has beaten a No. 6-ranked team and Frontier Conference leader at home this season.
Friday night was the first time Heny, or anyone else for that matter, scored 40 points in a Skylight uniform. The previous record of 38 was shared by Jana Smith and Shelly Hermanson.
At game's end Heny, MSU-N head coach Chris Mouat and the Northern faithful had no idea that they had just witnessed history.
“I had no clue I scored 40 points and neither did Chris,” Heny said. “I was just trying to stay aggressive all night, and my teammates kept making great passes to me when I was open. I was actually mad because I missed some free throws.”
Heny hit on 11-of-13 field goal attempts, including three 3-pointers, and she went 15-for-19 from the free-throw line. She also dished out five assists.
“None of us knew she had scored that many points,” Mouat said. “It was an intense game and Jaci was just trying to help her team win.
“The fact that she didn't know shows what a great and unselfish player she is,” Mouat added. “She didn't take a bad shot and she made some great passes, which just shows what a great team player she is. What mattered to her was getting a win.”
And did Northern ever win on Friday. The Warriors had handed the Skylights their worst loss of the season, a 20-point drubbing in Lewiston, Idaho, last month. But on Friday, the Skylights withstood a 14-0 first-half run and the play of 6-3 and 6-1 posts Ashley Baker and Aundrea Morrison to bust open a 40-40 halftime tie.
The Skylights went on a 16-5 run at the beginning of the second half to take a double-digit lead with 10:27 remaining in the game. Three-point shooting was a key as both Heny and Camille Gardner knocked down big shots in the second half.
Despite foul trouble, LC State crept to within seven points at 77-70, but, that would be as close as the Warriors could get. The Warriors fouled out three players, and the Skylights made 36-of-49 free throws for the game. Northern also outrebounded the much-bigger Warriors 41-36.
“I think defense and rebounding were the keys and we knew they would be coming in,” Mouat said. “We played a very physical brand of basketball and our posts did a great job on theirs. We just played really hard for 40 minutes.”
Of course, it didn't hurt when the Skylights had a 40-point game from Heny, piggybacked with 24 from Gardner.
“When you get 64 points from three or four players, you're doing pretty well,” Mouat said. “But to get 64 from two guards is pretty special and it makes you pretty tough to beat.”
Baker and Morrison were held under their season averages in scoring by the Skylights' hard-nosed defense as they each scored 17 points. Katya Yancheva added 15 points off the bench.
When asked to sum up why the Skylights seem to have little trouble beating nationally ranked teams at home, Heny put it quite simply.
“I just think we love to play at home,” Heny said. “We're comfortable here and we have such great fans. The support we get is just amazing and we just seem to play really well on our home floor.”
Less than 24 hours after the Skylights chopped down the biggest team in the conference, they did it to the biggest player in the league. Northern held the NAIA's leading scorer, Westminster's Shalee Fackrell, to 21 points, nine below her season average, as the Skylights thumped the Griffins, 74-54, to complete the weekend sweep.
Fackrell got most of her 21 points at the free-throw line. The Skylights' defense, in particular DeLayne Johnston, frustrated the 6-1 senior as she made just 7-of-19 attempts from the floor.
“Again, I thought the key to beating Westminster was just like it was against LC State,” Mouat said. “Defense and rebounding.
“For Shalee to get 19 shots, we feel pretty lucky that she only scored 21 points because that is how great of a player she is and she has our utmost respect,” he added. “But give a lot of credit to DeLayne for the defense she played the entire weekend. She had her hands full with great post players in both games and she did a tremendous job.”
The game between MSU-N and Westminster was tight throughout the first half, with the Skylights holding a 35-31 lead at intermission.
It didn't take long for Northern to pull away. They started the second half on a 17-0 run that put the Skylights out in front for good.
“I just thought we played very good basketball all weekend,” Mouat said. “The scores weren't as indicitive of how close the games were.
“These are two quality teams that we beat this weekend,” he added. “And we had to fight tooth and nail in both games. But give our kids a lot of credit. They played at a high level in both games. Especially, defensively, where I thought we improved a ton.”
Heny again paced the Skylights with 21 points, giving her an eye-popping 61 for the weekend. Johnston added 16 points, and Gardner and Michele VanDyke chipped in with 14 points apiece.
The sweep got the Skylights back over the .500 mark in conference play at 7-6, and they have a firm hold on the No. 4 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.
“These are big wins because we improved. We got better this week,” Mouat said. “We were aware of who we were playing and what they were ranked and all of that. But that's not what we talk about or prepare for.
“We prepared to execute against two high-caliber teams,” he added. “And our goal was to keep progressing and I think we accomplished that this weekend.”
Northern will host the University of Great Falls on Saturday night at 6 p.m. to close out its regular season.
Skylights 95, Warriors 81
LCS - Katie Hart 3-7 0-0 6, Jade Fulbright 2-8 2-3 6, Cami Kalbfleisch 1-2 0-0 3, Ashley Baker 7-15 3-7 17, Aundrea Morrison 7-15 6-6 17, Terri Wittmer 1-4 0-0 3, Kim Preston 0-1 0-0 0, Katya Yancheva 6-15 0-3 15, Jaheen Nelson 3-10 1-2 10, Vanessa West 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 31-81 12-18 81.
MSU-N - DeLayne Johnston 3-5 1-2 7, Jena Heggem 0-4 3-4 3, Michele VanDyke 6-11 4-6 16, Camille Gardner 5-9 10-12 24, Jaci Heny 11-13 15-19 40, Neehsa Bravard 0-1 0-0 0, Ashley Trulock 1-2 3-6 5. Totals 26-45 36-49 95.
Halftime - LCS 40, MSU-N 40. 3-pointers - LCS 7-20 (Kalbfleisch 1-2, Yancheva 3-7, Nelson 3-8), MSU-N 7-14 (Heny 3). Rebounds - LCS 36 (Baker 11), MSU-N 41 (Trulock 9, Johnston 7). Total fouls - LCS 33, MSU-N 15. Fouled out - Fulbright, Yancheva, Baker. Technicals - Kalbfleisch.
Skylights 74, Griffins 54
WC - Jordan Eckman 1-2 1-2 3, Janae Hirschi 2-6 0-0 5, Shalee Fackrell 7-19 7-10 21, Shannon Evans 3-12 1-2 7, Elisa Leader 4-9 2-2 12, Mara Hoskins 0-0 0-0 0, Alicia Haberle 1-2 0-0 3, Tiff Dodge 0-1 0-0 0, Amy Taggart 1-2 0-0 3. Totals: 19-53 11-16 54.
MSU-N - DeLayne Johnston 6-13 4-5 16, Jena Heggem 1-4 0-0 3, Michele VanDyke 7-12 0-0 14, Camille Gardner 6-13 0-1 14, Jaci Heny 6-12 5-5 21, Neesha Bravard 0-0 0-0 0, Mandee Carroll 0-1 0-0 0, Ashley Trulock 3-8 0-0 6. Totals: 29-63 9-11 74.
Halftime - MSU-N 35-31. 3-pointers - WC5-16 (Hirschi 1-3, Leader 2-5, Haberle 1-2, Taggart 1-2), MSU-N 7-13 (Heggem 1-3, Gardner 2-5, Heny 4-5). Rebounds - WC 36 (Fackrell 14), MSU-N 39 (Johnston 8). Total fouls - WC 13, MSU-N 16. Fouled out - Johnston.