By Kim Staudinger
The Montana State University-Northern Skylights capped a perfect weekend Saturday night, draining 11 three-pointers en route to an 80-62 victory over John Brown University in the final game of the Skylight Invitational. The Skylights also defeated Northwest College Friday night 86-65.
Northern led by as many as 14 in the first half, but the fighting Eagles didn't travel thousands of miles to become another easy win for the Skylights. The Eagles showed some fearsome long-range shooting of their own, cutting the once double-digit lead to just seven at the half.
Minutes into the second half and eight points later by Tamecia Watkins, the Skylights took their biggest lead at 51-35. But backed by a 17-4 nearly seven-minute run by the Eagles, Northern found themselves with only a three-point lead. However, John Brown scored only 10 more points in the remaining eight minutes of the game while the Skylights scored 25 to pull away with the win.
"We knew they'd make a run," Skylights' head coach Kevin Emerick said. "They made a run at the end of the first half and a couple of strong ones in the second half. You've got to weather the storm and our kids did. They came back strong."
Northern finished the game with five players in double figures, led by Paula Owens with 19, Angee Thomas (17), Miranda Weiser (16), Szudia Bragg (13) and Watkins (10). Owens led the three-point game, sinking 4-of-9 for 12 points. Weiser followed with 3-of-7 for nine points.
"Wow," Emerick said in response to the hot shooting from beyond the arch, noting his team had a better shooting percentage from three-point range than from field-goal range. "That is incredible. We made so many threes we kind of got lackadaisical and kind of stopped driving at them."
The Skylights took an early 7-2 lead in the first, topped off by a three-pointer from Owens, but John Brown battled back to take a 10-9 lead. John Brown also led by one at 15-14, but that was the last time the Eagles had the lead.
Each time the Eagles made a run at the slim Skylights' lead, Northern answered with a big three-point shot. Owens, Bragg and Megan Woolf each drained three-pointers from the right side in a two-minute span as the lead slowly began to climb back up.
Coming back from the Eagles' runs weren't easy though as the Skylights were forced to play most of the game without point guard Jenny Balgua, who turned her ankle mid-way through the first half.
"As hard as (Jenny) plays defensively, it forced Megan and Miranda to step up and they did that," Emerick said. "They did a great job defending the ball."
Without a key player, other team members were forced into positions they weren't used to. Luckily for the Skylights, the team rallied around the difficulties to come away with a "team win."
"It was the best team win in my two years here," Emerick said. "We got a great effort from every single player that played."
The Skylights seemed to have every aspect of their game working, committing only 13 turnovers, compared to 18 for John Brown. Northern also outrebounded the Eagles 42-38 and made 23-of-26 free throws. Northern's non-starters accounted for 34 points, while the non-starters for John Brown only scored 11 points. The Skylights capitalized on the Eagles' turnovers, scoring 19 points and also led on second-chance points 11-5. While all this could easily be seen as the difference in the game, Emerick took the stats to a different level.
"I think we were focused," he said. "The defensive intensity was the difference in the basketball game. I am proud of the heart the girls showed tonight."
Another factor Emerick said played a role in the win was the fan support.
"We had a great crowd tonight. They were really into the game and it made a difference," he said. "Rusty and the crowd are like our sixth man. There are no better fans in the world than right here."
Leading scorers for John Brown were Sofie Voordeckers with 15, Katie Elliott with 13 and Lara Keeling with 12.
In the first game of the night Saturday Minot State defeated Northwest College 94-70. Northwest's Katy Lockard led all scorers with 21 points. Angela Goodman led the way for Minot with 15 points. Malta native LeeAnn Pekovitch and Jamie Lamoureux each added 13 in the win. Northwest had three other players score 10 points, while Minot had two others with 12.
Friday night saw a tighter game for both Minot State and John Brown University with John Brown escaping with a 79-76 win. Aubree Schwartz scored 18 in the victory, followed by Voordeckers with 15. Kayla Blom led all scorers with 25 points for Minot, followed by Lamoureux with 19 and Goodman with 16.
The Skylights took on Northwest in the first night of the tournament, coming away with another big win, 86-65. Once again five players scored in double figures for Northern, led by Sarah Gaugler with 17 and Owens with 14. Bragg added 12 and Thomas and Nichole Neill each added 10. Moriah Hover led the way for Northwest with 16 points, followed by Nikki Hover with 12 and Lockard with 11.
The Skylights are in action again this weekend in Great Falls at the UGF Invitational. The Skylights take on Albertson College Friday at 6 p.m. and the host-team Argos Saturday night at 8.