By Kim Staudinger
After having 10 days off for Christmas break, the Montana State University-Northern Lights were back at home for two games against the University of Calgary Friday and Saturday nights.
While the Lights won both games over the Dinos, the Lights showed a little rust Friday, sneaking by Calgary 102-93. Though the score appeared close Saturday, too, the Lights had control of the entire game, winning 94-82.
Chester native Jeff Graham started Friday night's game with four free throws after Calgary received two technical fouls for dunking the ball and hanging on the rim in warm-ups. The Lights added three-pointers by Uros Mirkovic and K.C. Moultrie to take a 10-0 lead.
The Dinos cut the lead to 10-6 on two baskets by Whit Hornsberger, who led all scorers with 30 points on the game, 22 of which came in the first half.
Hornsberger continued to whittle away at the Lights' lead, showing sharp shooting from the outside and great ball-handling skills to drive inside. Calgary's biggest lead of the half and of the game came at 26-23 after Hornsberger hit a three-point shot near the top of the key.
But Moultrie answered with a three of his own for the Lights and Jermaine Walton had 10 points in the next three minutes of play to give the Lights a six-point lead. The Lights took a 57-54 lead into the half.
Coming out of the half, the Lights were able to hold Hornsberger to only eight points and forced the other Dinos players to pick up the slack. John Riad, who finished just behind Hornsberger with 23 points, grabbed the reins and scored 13 points in the second half.
The Lights, who led by as many as 13 points in the second half, were never quite able to put the final exclamation point on the win, despite dunks by Spencer Lazosky and E.J. Little.
The Lights led by 12 with just over two minutes remaining and responded to every Calgary basket late to come away with the win.
Graham led five Lights in double figures with 20 points, followed by Little with 19, Moultrie with 18, and Mirkovic and Walton with 15 each. Northern finished the game with 90 percent shooting from the charity stripe, 53.3 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range.
After Friday's game, the Lights knew some changes needed to be made for Saturday's game in hopes of taking both games from the Dinos.
"We tried to make it tougher for Hornsberger to catch the ball tonight," Lights head coach Brian Harrell said after Saturday's game. "He still got 22 points, but it was a tough 22." Harrell also said he had watched a game tape of Calgary and found that Hornsberger was "a little better than I thought he was on tape. I didn't give him enough credit."
Another change the Lights made for Saturday's game was trying to get the ball down low to the post players more often than they did on Friday.
"Our depth is a factor," Harrell said. "They go to the bench and get weaker. When we go to the bench, sometimes we get stronger."
Saturday's game started with a tighter score and it appeared as though the Lights were in for another close game. But just as that thought entered the minds of the fans, the Lights outscored the Dinos 15-2 over six minutes of play to take a 28-15 lead with 9:34 remaining in the half.
Little, who had another key game for Northern with 16 points, scored six points before coming out of the game for a brief rest at the end of the run. Little spent his time on the sidelines riding a stationary bike.
The Dinos made a short comeback, cutting the Northern lead to 28-22 with 8:27 remaining in the half, but the Lights answered to take a 51-32 lead at the half.
The Lights led by 25 points at two different times in the second half and led by 24 with 5:39 left in the game. But the Dinos battled back, guided by 11 points from Sean Paterson and eight from Richard Wiebach. Riad added three points in the last five-plus minutes of play to make the final score 94-82.
Five Lights once again scored in double figures, led by Moultrie with 26, Little with 16, Graham (14), Josh Hays (12) and Mirkovic (11).
"Everybody contributed tonight," Harrell said. "Uros played well, Jermaine distributed the ball well. It was pretty much a team effort. A lot of guys contributed in a lot of ways." Harrell also said his team had more intensity and more energy Saturday night compared to Friday night.