The Montana State University-Northern men’s basketball team busted out of a shooting slump in a big way in the first round of the Frontier Conference playoffs. The victim was the Great Falls Argos, who watched the Lights drop in 12 3-pointers and blast them by 22 points Wednesday night in Havre.
Now, Northern (23-8) will try and do the same thing to UM-Western in the semifinals, only the Lights will have to do it on the Bulldogs’ home floor.
Saturday night at 7 p.m., the No. 20 Lights and No. 15 Bull
dogs (21-8) will square off in the Frontier semifinals in Dillon. And with it, renew what has become the most heated and intense rivalry in the conference. Northern and Western have met in the playoffs in each of the last four seasons, including last year’s Frontier championship game in Havre. Saturday night’s winner will earn the right to play for the 2013 title.
“It’s going to be a big game, as they all are when you get this far,” Northern head coach Shawn Huse said. “Fortunately, we should go in with some confidence and some momentum after what we were able to do (Wednesday night).”
What the Lights did Wednesday was stop a two-game losing skid, and a stretch in which they had lost three of their last four. One of those losses was two weeks ago when Western’s Jake Owsley tipped in a shot with 6.7 seconds left to lift the Bulldogs to a 59-57 win in Havre. Northern has still take six of the last nine from Western including a commanding 64-53 victory back in January in Dillon. But for now, things have changed as Western is one of the hottest teams in the NAIA.
The Bulldogs are winners of five straight coming into tonight’s game. They average a high-powered 74 points per game on offense, they give up just 64 and they are a solid rebounding team. Individually, Western is led by Owsley’s 13 points per game. The 6-8 center also grabs seven rebounds per, while junior guard Maazin Butler scored 13 points per game and dishes out three assists per night. Sharp-shooters Jordan Overstreet and Kris Collins are also scoring threats from the outside, as is Chris Castro.
“They (Bulldogs) are a difficult team to defend for 40 minutes because they are pretty versatile,” Huse said. “They have good size, and they have good quickness. So we know we are going to have to be really sharp defensively.”
Fortunately, the Lights are the top defensive team in the Frontier, and Northern has held Western under 60 points in both meetings this season. So the Lights will likely give another great defensive effort on Saturday night. What the game will likely come down to is, who makes more shots, and who takes better care of the basketball.
The Lights shot 51 percent from the field and went 12-of-24 from three against the Argos Wednesday night, with Roshawn West and Alfie Miller combining to make eight trey’s. Northern will of course, look to senior leader Devin Jackson as well. He’s averaging 13 points and four assists per game, while Jesse Vaughan, Will Perry and Corbin Pearson will not only be called upon for offense, but for their defense on Owsley’s and the rest of Western’s big men in the paint.
And though both teams have their advantages, it’s always a toss-up when the Lights and Bulldogs meet, especially with so much at stake. But going in, Huse is glad his team has a well-played game under its belt, and he feels the Lights are more than capable of moving on.
“I hope the guys have confidence and remember that we’ve been a really good road team for most of this season,” Huse said. “And tonight’s (Wednesday) win should give us an added confidence boost. We know it’s going to take a heck of an effort to be successful on Western’s home floor, but we also know that we have and can play well on the road. So we’ll take this momentum we have and use it on Saturday night.”
Saturday’s semifinal bout between the Lights and Bulldogs will get under way at 7 p.m. in Dillon. The winner will either travel to Lewis-Clark State or host Rocky Mountain College in Tuesday night’s Frontier Conference championship game.