Winning on the road is never easy. Winning on the road this season in the Frontier Conference, even more difficult.
But the Montana State University-Northern men’s basketball team did just that, and in the process, exercised some demons from a year ago. Last season, it was Rocky Mountain College which beat the Lights in Havre on the last weekend of the regular season. That game likely kept the Lights out of the NAIA tourney, but on Thursday night in Billings, the Lights got a huge win on the Battling Bears home floor as Northern won 74-53 and kept its first-place standing in the league.
“It is a big win,” Northern head coach Shawn Huse said. “It takes us a step further in what we’re trying to accomplish, and it puts us in a good position. Not only that, but we know how tough it’s been to win at Rocky in the past. So I’m just really proud of our guys for coming down here and finding a way to get it done.”
Although Rocky came into Thursday’s game in last place, the Lights knew first-hand just how tough the Bears are. Northern only beat the Bears 54-50 last month in Havre, but Huse credits a better start to the game, so more efficient 3-point shooting, and a great night from Joe Simpson as to why the Lights were able to beat the Bears by a wider margin on Thursday night.
Simpson got the Lights off to a good start in the first half, on both ends of the floor, and he wound up finishing with a game-high 18 points. Meanwhile, Northern was able to shoot better than 50 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes, and the result was a commanding 38-22 lead at the half.
And because of the Lights’ stellar defense all season long, when they’re ahead like they were Thursday in Billings, teams have trouble coming back. And although the Bears shot better in the final 20 minutes, they didn’t threaten Northern’s lead.
“The final score really doesn’t tell how much effort it took by our guys to come away with a win like this,” Huse said. “Joe (Simpson) played a great all-around game, and he really got us going. But this was a total team effort. Rocky is a lot more dangerous than their record, and we played a very well-rounded game to beat them. So I’m very proud of our guys right now.”
Simpson had seven rebounds to go with his 18 points, while Shaun Tatarka added another 18 points, including two of Northern’s seven three’s. Devin Jackson also hit two trey’s and had 10 points as the Lights improved to 8-3 in conference play and 19-7 overall.
The win means Northern won’t lose its hold on the Frontier on this road trip, but the Lights still have a tall order in from them when they visit Carroll College on Saturday in Helena.
The Lights are expecting a tough matchup with the Saints, who beat UGF on Thursday night and will host the Lights on senior night in Helena. MSU-N won in Helena a year ago.