George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Just like Havre, Chicago is a ways away from Kansas City. But the No. 8 Robert Morris Eagles are no stranger to Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium. In fact, the eagles have made the trip to Kansas City an annual ritual this decade, and they'll do it again on Wednesday when they face the No. 25 Montana State University-Northern Lights in the opening round of the 2009 NAIA men's basketball tournament at 4:30 p.m. C.S.T. The Eagles (24-3) are making their sixth straight trip into the NAIA field and during that stretch they have done no worse than reach the Sweet 16. That streak also includes three straight trips to the Final Four and an appearance in the Elite Eight last year. Conversely, Wednesday's game will be MSU-N's first tournament game in 11 years. "Their experience is a big factor," MSU-N head coach Shawn Huse said. "They do the little things, the things necessary to play it this level, and they've done it for a while now. "They (Eagles) also have a tremendous amount of athleticism and talent," he added. "From what we know, and what we've seen, they are athletic, they have good size, they really hit the boards hard, they play an up-tempo brand of basketball and a lot of pressure defense. So we certainly understand we have our hands full." Indeed. The Eagles are the fifth highest-scoring team in the NAIA averaging just over 86 points per game, and unlike the Lights (23-9), who are one of the best 3-point-shooting teams in the nation, the Eagles do most of their damage inside, and in transition. Robert Morris doesn't shoot a very high percentage from three, but that fact is of no concern to Huse or his players. The Lights, who will need to shoot the ball extremely well from the outside on Wednesday afternoon, will be outsized in the paint, and the Eagles will look to take advantage. "It starts with our defense," MSU-N senior Derek Trembly said. "We pride ourselves on getting after teams and trying to get our defense to key our offense. We just need to go out and play Northern defense like we have all season, and then, hopefully the shots will fall." And with all of the talent the Eagles have, Northern, which has been near the top of the Frontier Conference in most defensive categories all season long, will have to be even better defensively than they were during the regular season. The Eagles have six players averaging double figures, including 6-5 Reggie Bunch's 14 points, while 6-9 center Jeff Wilson averages 11 points and 11 rebounds per game. Inside, the Eagles make plenty of hay with 6-5 Marcus Hall, 6-7 Billy Rush, 6-6 Mario Brandon and 6-10 Remas Untilis. On the perimeter, point guard Kenny Page averages 11 points per game and is the Eagles' top defender. "Obviously, defensively we're going to have to play at a very high level," Huse said. "They (Eagles) score a lot of points and they have so much size and depth, especially in the paint. So we're going to have our hands full with them. Actually, it's pretty simple. For us to be successful, we're going to have to defend and find ways to keep them off the boards. Rebounding is going to be huge for us because they (Eagles) do a lot of good things on the boards, especially offensive rebounds. Then, we hope we're having a good shooting night." And of course the Lights have had good shooting nights on numerous occasions this season. MSU-N enters the tournament shooting 41 percent from three, and seniors Chris Johnson and Travis Noble, as well as junior Andrew Sellars will be heavily relied upon to make shots against the Eagles. And while Huse is concerned about rebounding, Northern is actually the third-best rebounding team in the nation. But against a team like Robert Morris, Northern will need the play of its big men on both ends of the floor. Trembly, Walynn Burgess Clay Greenland and Clinton Shelton will have their hands full on the defensive end of the floor, but with the style of defense the Eagles play, the Lights will also hope for offensive production in the paint as well. "We have to play good defense in this game," Johnson said. "Coach (Huse) preaches defense to us night and day, every day and we've worked hard to be a good defensive team this season. So now we just have to go down there, play Northern defense and execute our offense, just play hard and leave it all on the floor." And there is no doubt the Lights will leave it all on the Municipal Auditorium floor on Wednesday afternoon. MSU-N is a hard-working team just looking to play the best game of its season and trying to upset a highly-ranked opponent. The Lights have done it before this season and they believe they can do it again. "We're looking forward to the chance to show what we can do," Sellars said. "We have to play well, we know that. We're playing a very good team. But we've played a lot of good teams this season and we know we're capable of going down there and making some noise. We just have to play Northern basketball."