By Jason Shoot
In college basketball it is certainly better to be peaking at the end of the season than anywhere else in the schedule, and the Montana State University-Northern men's team is doing exactly that at the most opportune time.
Northern (7-7, 13-15) is the fifth seed in this weekend's Frontier Conference tournament in Salt Lake City, but the way the Lights have performed recently they could certainly be considered a dark horse in the tournament.
The Lights (7-7, 13-15) have won five of their past seven games, including a 101-89 win over first-round opponent Lewis-Clark State at Northern Gym on Feb. 1 that began the successful stretch. The two teams meet tonight at 6 p.m.
L-C State (8-6, 16-12) did earn a split of the two teams' regular-season meetings with a 94-80 victory in Lewiston, Idaho, on Jan. 6.
Junior forward David Sawyer has been Northern's most consistent player this season, averaging 15.7 points and 7.4 rebounds a game, but the Lights have found a second player to turn to offensively senior guard Keith Carothers.
Carothers, a Helena native, has provided Northern with a perimeter shooter with the ability to drive the ball to the basket and soften the opponent's defensive interior. His play opens the offense up for the other Lights players.
Senior Mel Stubblefield, who is fourth in the Frontier averaging 1.8 steals per game, has been handling the ball better at the point guard position, and the senior is beginning to add a steady offensive game to his repertoire.
Add to those three players other teammates who are comfortable with their roles Josh Hays, Da'Vion Famber, Bruce Stacy and K.C. Moultrie and Coach Tim Walker has put together a very dangerous team.
Lewis-Clark State is a defensive-minded team, giving up a league-best 68.6 points a game. That differs sharply from the Northern's mindset run, run, run.
Northern is tops in the Frontier in scoring with 85.8 points a game, so simply put, whomever imposes its style of play will win the game.
In the tournament's other first-round games, No. 3 seed Western Montana plays No. 6 seed Montana Tech at noon, No. 2 seed Carroll battles No. 7 seed Rocky Mountain, and top seed Westminster (13-1, 20-7) opens against No. 8 seed Great Falls at 8 p.m.