The Montana State University-Northern women’s basketball team didn’t play its best game by any stretch of the imagination, and on the flip side, the Hope International Royals were relentless for 40 minutes.
But when the chips were down, and when their backs were against the wall, the Skylights showed resolve and guts in beating the Royals of the powerful Golden State Athletic Conference during the first night of the annual Duck Inn Classic Thursday at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse.
Northern trailed the Royals by as much as 10 points in the second half, but made big play after big play down the stretch to pull out a 62-57 victory and improve to a sparkling 11-1 on the season.
“We did a lot of things very poorly,” Northern head coach Chris Mouat said. “We got killed on the boards, we got beat to the rim time and time again, we missed a ton of free throws and point-blank layups, We didn’t play well defensively at all. And you have to give credit where credit is due, Hope International is everything I thought they’d be. They are very quick, the shoot the ball well and they play very hard on defense. They have played a very difficult schedule and it showed because they came in here and weren’t afraid at all. So a lot of the way we played was because of what they were doing to us. They are a very good team.
“Having said all of that,” he added. “When we had to, we got stops and we got scores. We made big free throws and got big rebounds. All in all, our kids found a way to get it done when they weren’t at their best and that feels really good. I’m really proud of this team for what they overcame tonight.”
And the Skylights overcame a lot.
The Royals wrestled the lead away from Northern at the 8:13 mark of the first half and didn’t give it up until there was just 5:48 left in the game. Behind some big 3-pointers and 10 first-half turnovers by the Skylights, the Royals ripped off a 16-7 run in the final seven minutes of the half and led 27-24 at the break.
“Their defense really got us out of synch,” Mouat said. “They just keep coming at you, full court and it really bothered us tonight. Give them a ton of credit for that.”
And the Royals kept on coming in the second half. They led 42-32 with under 13 minutes to go and the Skylights continued to miss shots and free throws in the process. But with 7:51 to play, everything changed.
Laramie Schwenke had been bottled up for much of the night, but she drained a three, which sent the Skylights on a quick 9-0 spurt. Kylee Denham followed Schwenke’s three with an old-fashioned 3-point play, making a layup and converting a free throw. Seconds later, Nikki Tresch banged in one of two big 3-pointers by her in the final minutes and all of sudden, the Skylights were in the lead, 48-45 with 5:48 to go.
“That was a big sequence of events,” Mouat said. “Those three plays made a big difference. Laramie’s shot was huge. She got off to a slow start tonight, and she’s her own toughest critic. But down the stretch, she really put us on her back for a while. Some of the things she did for us tonight won’t show up in the stat sheet, but she really came up big. But there’s no doubt, all three of those plays were huge. Nikki is deadly when she gets a good luck and her clutch shooting was huge for us as well.
“Actually, we made a lot of big plays down the stretch, and we needed every one of them tonight,” he added.
Indeed. The Royals weren’t rattled by Northern’s run, and they calmly kept the game close right down to the wire.
But with the game tied at 54-54 and just over two minutes to go, the Skylights erupted again. Tresch banged home another three, Schwenke went on a streak of six straight made foul shots, and with the Skylights up two with :16 left, Hope’s Lauren Salazar missed the front end of a one-and-one and Denham secured a huge rebound. Jordan Bruursema then iced the game with a commanding offensive rebound and two made free throws to finally put the Royals away for good.
“Jordan’s o–board sealed it for us,” Mouat said. “And her two free throws after. That was a big, big play in this game and I’m very proud of her and Kylee for getting in there and grabbing those rebounds at the end.
“I’m proud of everybody tonight,” he added. “Taylor Cummings came in gave us a great lift. Rachelle Bennett played really well and Laci Keller had some really good minutes too. We great a great lift off our bench. And that’s part of our team really playing together and finding a way to get it done. That’s very gratifying.”
Schwenke overcame a rough start and a tenacious full-court Hope defense to score 15 points and grab nine rebounds, both team-high’s. She also led with five assists and went 7-for-8 from the free-throw-line. Tresch followed with 14 points and three huge trey’s. Bruursema added 10 points and five boards, while Cummings came in and scored seven points and made five clutch free throws. Keller added six points off the bench, while Hope was led by Brittany Bauman’s 15 points.
“Just really proud of our kids,” Mouat said. “We have a lot to get cleaned up before we play a very good Minot State team, but the bottom line is, we found a way to beat a really good team tonight and we’re 11-1. You have to be happy with that.”
The Skylights face Minot State Saturday at 4 p.m. at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse. The Duck Inn Classic continues tonight with Carroll College facing Hope at 6 and Minot taking on Great Falls at 8. MSU defeated the Saints on Thursday night. UGF also faces Hope at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Skylights Notes: Northern committed 20 turnovers, but wound up shooting 34 free throws on the night. Schwenke has now grabbed nine or more rebounds six times this season. The Royals scored 100 points in a win over Simpson University earlier this season. Simpson is Northern’s only loss so far. The Skylights were beaten by Minot State 62-56 last month in Billings.
Skylights 62, Hope International 65
HI — Samera Dorton 4-7 0-0 8, Lindsay Sutherlin 2-7 2-4 8, Lauren Salazar 4-16 3-5 14, Kasey Philyaw 0-1 1-2 1, Brittani Philbrook 2-4 1-2 5, Brittany Bauman 5-14 2-3 15, Krystal Canning 3-7 0-2 6. Totals: 20-62 8-20 57.
MSU-N — Jordan Bruursema 3-10 4-4 10, Kelly Millager 1-5 1-3 3, Laramie Schwenke 3-10 7-8 15, Nikki Tresch 5-11 1-2 14, Kylee Denham 1-5 2-5 4, Rachelle Bennett 1-2 1-2 3, Taylor Cummings 1-1 5-7 7, Laci Keller 2-4 2-3 6. Totals: 17-48 23-34 62.
Halftime: Hope 27-24. 3-point field goals: HI 8-20 (Sutherlin 2, Salazar 3, Bauman 3), MSU-N 5-12 (Schwenke 2, Tresch 3). Rebounds: HI 51 (Dorten 15), MSU-N 36 (Schwenke 9). Fouls: HI 27, MSU-N 14. Fouled out: Dorton, Salazar.