The Montana State University-Northern men’s basketball team has enjoyed plenty of success in recent years. But it’s been a while since the Lights rolled through two of their biggest nonconference rivals like this.
The No. 25 Lights swept Dakota Athletic Conference rivals Dickinson State and Minot State this weekend at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse to improve to 4-1 on the season. The Lights beat the Blue Hawks 75-68 in a hard-fought win on Friday afternoon, then drubbed Minot 85-55 on Saturday night.
“Just very proud of this team right now,” MSU-N head coach Shawn Huse said. “Playing Dickinson and Minot back-to-back is never easy, but especially for such a new team like we have. So to come away with two wins is great. It was just a really good weekend for our team overall.”
The Lights got things started with a hard-nosed win over the Blue Hawks, who will likely be part of the conference in two years, if not next season.
As usual, the game was a battle throughout, and either team could have won down the stretch. Northern led by six points at halftime, but the Blue Hawks chipped away behind quick scores from Nate Lebsock and Matt Lee. And when Lebsock nailed a 3-pointer at the 8:32 mark, the Hawks had their first lead of the half at 52-51.
But despite falling behind, the Lights never wavered. And keeping their composure offensively was a huge key according to Huse.
“I thought even when Dickinson came back on us, that we never stopped playing well offensively,” Huse said. “A lot of times, when a team makes a run, you go into a lull at the same time. That wasn’t the case on Friday night. The guys kept playing well, kept executing on offense, and because of that, they (Blue Hawks) didn’t get away from us.
“And we continued to execute our offense once we got the lead back,” he added. “We got that cushion, and then we got some really big stops on defense at the end to keep that cushion. So it was nice to see us maintain that level of play on offense even in the face of Dickinson making their run. Our offense kind of won it for us in that respect.”
And the 3-point-line was key in the Lights doing that. LaVon Myers nailed a triple to give the Lights the lead back, then Devin Jackson hit two big three’s after the teams traded intentional fouls in the final five minutes. Jackson’s last three came at the 1:40 mark and put the Lights up by five, but the sophomore guard made an even bigger impact for the Lights, scoring nine of his 12 points in the final two minutes of the game.
As a team, the Lights shot 40 percent from beyond the arc and made 10 three’s. The 3-pointer was instrumental in Northern’s first-half lead as well as junior Shaun Tatarka hit three of his four trey’s in the first 20 minutes. Tatarka finished the game with a team-high 17 points, while Myers added 12 points and five assists, and David Maddock came off the bench to score nine points. The Blue Hawks were led by Lebsock’s 21, while Lee poured in 18 points.
And while Northern pulled out a hard-fought battle on Friday afternoon, inexplicably, Minot State didn’t give the Lights much of a fight on Saturday night.
Hot shooting from the outside was again the story for the Lights in their blowout win Saturday as Tatarka and Myers combined to score 13 points in the first 10 minutes, while Maddock helped stake MSU-N to a 44-19 halftime lead by nailing a pair of three’s near the end of the half.
Northern poured it on in the second half, leading 71-45 with six minutes to go. It was MSU-N’s largest margin of victory over Minot, which will be going up to NCAA Division II next season, in the Huse era.
“I thought we shot the ball really well tonight,” Huse said. “Our shooting improved from last night, but we also maintained a high level of effort on the defensive end, and with those two things combined, things really went our way tonight.
“We came out shooting the ball really well early,” he added. “And then David Maddock came off the bench ready to go, and his shooting really broke it open for us. He (Maddock) had a great weekend, and his shooting tonight was really good. That was a big difference in the game, but again, we played so well on both ends. It was a great team effort tonight.”
The Lights were indeed scorching. They shot better than 50 percent from the field and an unconscious 12-for-26 from three. Tatarka scored a game-high 18 points, including four trey’s and six assists, while Maddock hit four three’s and had a season-high 17 points. Myers added 13 points and seven rebounds and Jackson chipped in with 11 points.
“These two wins give us a lot of confidence because these were two good teams,” Tatarka said. “Especially, the way we were able to beat Dickinson last night. That was a game where Devin and I told the new guys, we had to play very hard because they (Blue Hawks) are a team that comes in here and plays really hard every year. And we did that. We were working hard, we got to loose balls and we played tough defense. The way we won that game was big for us. And this weekend really was two good wins for this team.”
Northern will now head to Las Vegas Friday and Saturday for games against NAIA powers Robert Morris and Vanguard University.