By Kim Staudinger
With only two returners from last year's team and a new head coach, some may have expected the Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team to struggle early on.
Instead, the talented new recruits have turned the Lights' team around, bringing a 2-1 record into the Northern Invitational Tournament beginning Friday.
The one loss the Lights have this season came to Dickinson at Dickinson in overtime. The Lights have a chance to redeem themselves a little Saturday at 8 p.m. when they take on the Red Devils.
"We want to play a little better than we did over there," Lights coach Brian Harrell said of the Dickinson game. "We kind of owe them one. We felt like we let one slip away."
Aside from the win over Northern, Dickinson also defeated Great Falls and Montana Tech on the road.
In preparation for this weekend's games, Harrell said his team has had a very intense week of practice after struggling at an exhibition game at Weber.
"We looked bad at Weber," he said. "We need to come out and get back to the basics and play fundamental basketball. The mistakes we made are correctable things we can get better at like simple blockouts and screens.
"Practice has been very intense this week. Everybody, the coaches and players included, came back with the attitude that we have some things we need to work on."
The weekend starts Friday night at 8 for the Lights as they take on Concordia College from Edmonton, Alberta. Concordia College is a young team, this being the third year the program has existed. The first year the Thunder compiled a 1-23 record, followed by a 12-21 record in its second year. The Thunder sit at 4-4 so far this season.
Expected starters for Concordia are Jim Huffman, a 6-foot-9 center who averages 12.7 points per game and 7.5 rebounds, Hugh Foster, a 6-foot-7 shooting guard who averages 14.5 points per game, 5.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists, Andrew Parker, a 6-foot-4 guard, averaging 11.7 points per game, Nick Phelan, a 6-foot-4 power forward, averaging 7.8 rebounds per game and Chris Wilson, a 6-foot-2 point guard who averages 8.5 assists per game.
The Lights will counter with Josh Hays, E.J. Little, K.C. Moultrie, Uros Mirkovic and Jermaine Walton.
"We are looking to come home and get better fundamentally and try to win two games," Harrell said. "We are still growing as a team, it doesn't happen overnight."
Harrell also noted the versatility in his team, mentioning a different player has stepped it up in each game for his team.
"It's the mark of a good team if you can have different guys step up," he said. "People don't care who it is. Hopefully the team chemistry will stay that way. We do a lot of things as a team; it's our extended family for six months."
The Skylights are also in action this weekend, playing both Friday and Saturday nights at 6. The Skylights take on Medicine Hat Friday and Northwest Oklahoma on Saturday. Information from the Medicine Hat team was not available.
Northwest Oklahoma brings a 4-0 record into the tournament this weekend. A 53.8 percent shooter from the field last year, Brooke Rockenbach averages 11.3 points per game for the Rangers. Stacy Wyatt and Melissa Carpenter enter the season, averaging 9.5 points per game. Carpenter also grabs close to four rebounds per game. Kelly Lewis is the top rebounder with 5.9 rebounds per game.
Leading the way for the Skylights is Paula Owens with 16.5 points per game and nearly eight rebounds. Owens is followed by Szudia Bragg and Tamecia Watkins with 10.8 points per game. Bragg averages 4.75 rebounds per game, while Watkins averages 4.25. The Skylights bring a 2-2 record into this weekend's games.
The following is the tournament schedule for this weekend's games at Montana State University-Northern:
2 p.m. University of Great Falls vs. Northwest Oklahoma, women
4 p.m. Carroll College vs. Dickinson, men
6 p.m. MSU-Northern vs. Medicine Hat, women
8 p.m. MSU-Northern vs. Concordia, men
2 p.m. University of Great Falls vs. Medicine Hat, women
4 p.m. Concordia vs. Carroll College, men
6 p.m. MSU-Northern vs. Northwest Oklahoma, women
8 p.m. MSU-Northern vs. Dickinson, men