The crowds have been impressive all year for Montana State University-Northern men’s and women’s home basketball games.
Friday and Saturday night at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse was no different. And the Lights and Skylights returned the favor for such great support from their fans by giving them four big Frontier Conference wins.
On Friday night, an energetic crowd, led by a raucous Northern student section witnessed, and helped push the Skylights to one of their most impressive victories to date, a 73-51 thumping of Rocky Mountain College. The Skylights managed just 38 points in a loss at RMC last month, but Northern was firing on all cylinders Friday night. The Skylights hit three’s and led the Bears by double digits for the final 31 minutes of the game.
The Northern men certainly appreciated the support on Friday night too. The Lights had lost three straight games on the road, but the home crowd helped push MSU-N back into the win column with a 10-point victory over Rocky.
The enthusiasm then carried over to Saturday night’s bouts. The Skylights won a thriller over Carroll, then senior Laramie Schwenke joined the eight Northern men’s seniors for a stirring and emotional senior night ceremony, with U.S. Senator Jon Tester in attendance.
Following the ceremony, the Lights and Saints played another classic in a classic rivalry, with Northern coming out on top.
“What can you say about our crowds this weekend,” Northern men’s head coach Shawn Huse said., “Our fans made it really special for our players and I know our guys feed off their energy. This was our last two regular season home games. Our guys had their families here and with the great support from our fans, this was a great two nights for our players. And I know all our guys really appreciate that.
“Our fans really pushed us and gave us energy in both games this weekend,” women’s head coach Chris Mouat added. “To have that big of a crowd there for an early game, that was big and it really helps our players with the energy our fans bring to every game.
“I think the support we got from the crowd tonight was big,” MSU-N senior Joe Simpson echoed. “We fed off their energy. The crowd was really the fuel for our fire tonight.”
If you wanted to see teams using the 3-pont shoot to make a basketball game exciting, then the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse was the place to be this weekend.
In wins over RMC and Carroll, the Skylights, who lead the NAIA in 3-point percentage, made 15-of-39 three’s, Laramie Schwenke and Nikki Tresch hit 12 of those.
On the men’s side, the Lights and Saints put on an aerial assault on Saturday night.
The Lights attempted 45 three’s and made a season-high 18. Carroll only put up 13, but shot 56 percent by making seven of them. In the second half alone, the Lights and Saints combined to make 14 triples, while the Lights also made five three’s in the first five minutes of the game.
The 3-pointers against Carroll were nothing new for the Lights. In their overtime loss last month in Helena, the Lights attempted 42 bombs, while Carroll basically played a zone defense against Northern for all 80 minutes during the regular season.
“Devin, LV (Lavon Myers), Tark (Shaun Tatarka), David Maddock, all of those guys made big shots, over and over tonight,” Simpson said of the win over Carroll. “Our guards did a great job shooting the ball.”
Getting it done in the post
Jordan Bruursema has been a catalyst for the Skylights all season in the paint, though she’s a true guard. But if the Skylights were to be successful this weekend, and beyond, they were going to have to get big-time production from Laci Keller and Kelly Millager.
The Skylights got that, and more.
Keller averaged 10 points and seven rebounds in Northern’s two wins, while Millager sparked Northern off the bench by scoring eight early points against Rocky, then gave them a huge a boost with a huge board and two free throws late in the win over Carroll.
“Obviously, this win (Friday) was really important,” Keller, a Big Sandy native said. “We want to win this weekend really bad for our fans and for Laramie. We knew coming in we’d need to pull it together, and I think we did a good job of that tonight.”
Things to come
While the Lights honored eight magnificent seniors on Saturday night, all of whom have left a huge impression with the Northern program, on and off the floor, two players who will be back a year from now also stepped into the spotlight Friday and Saturday night.
Junior Devin Jackson, already a two-year starter and a scoring machine, was just that for the Lights this weekend. In two games, Jackson averaged 20 points, hit nine 3-pointers and shot better than 60 percent from beyond the arc. Jackson scored team high’s on both nights, pouring in 21 points against RMC and 23 against the Saints.
Redshirt-freshman Corbin Pearson was also big. All year, Pearson has made the most of his minutes off the bench, and in each game, he gave the Lights a lift. He grabbed 10 rebounds over the weekend, including four offensive, and he made clutch free throws as well. Pearson is also put in to contend with an opponent's key big man, and he did a strong job of defending some of the Frontier’s best this weekend in RMC’s Sergio Trocha and Carroll’s Andy Garland.
Both Jackson and Pearson showed this weekend that despite the losses to graduation coming this spring, the Lights are still in good hands.