By Kim Staudinger
While the Westminster defense held Montana State University-Northern to only 30 first-half points, the Lights defense got the last laugh.
Tied at 67 after regulation, the Lights held Westminster scoreless in the five-minute overtime period and scored 14 points of their own to get the 81-67 win Thursday night at the Northern gym. The Lights improved to 12-5 on the season and 1-0 in Frontier Conference play. Westminster fell to 1-2 in the conference.
Jermaine Walton scored six points in overtime, added one blocked shot and tough defensive pressure to spark the Lights. But it was Josh Hays who scored the last six points in regulation to lead the Lights to overtime. Hays scored the first basket in overtime and added another basket plus a free throw, totaling five points. Jeff Graham drained a three-pointer from the right corner to account for the 14 points by the Lights.
With just 2:13 remaining in overtime, Walton was fouled on a shot that somehow went in and brought the crowd to its feet. Walton made the free throw following the shot to give the Lights a 75-67 lead.
"Jermaine really turned it up the last eight minutes," Lights head coach Brian Harrell said. "They were playing zone (defense) to stop Walton, but he still started to find people" who could score.
Westminster followed Walton's basket with a turnover, forcing head coach George Pfeifer to take a timeout. Hays followed with a basket and free throw for a three-point play. Then Walton blocked a three-pointer by Todd Christensen to seal the game for Northern.
Walton's three-pointer with 9.6 seconds remaining in the game put the exclamation point on the 81-67 win. The Lights bench stood for much of the last few minutes of regulation and did not sit down for the entire overtime period, cheering and encouraging their teammates on.
"We were fortunate to be in overtime," Harrell said. "It was a gutsy, gutsy effort by our guys. They believed in themselves and never gave up. It would have been easy for them to do, but they didn't. It was a pretty fun locker room after the game."
The Lights, down by 11 at the half, were down by as many as 14 at one point in the second half, but used a deep bench to fight off a tiring Griffins team.
"A big factor is our depth," Harrell said. "They play seven to eight guys and we can play 10. I told them in the locker room at halftime that the statistic that means the least is the halftime score."
The Lights struggled early with a tough defensive pressure from the Griffins, who had Northern down by 16 at the 7:14 mark in the first half.
"We did a decent job in the first half, but we couldn't get any breaks," Harrell said. "It took us one half to adjust. They kept switching their defenses up and keeping us off guard. They mixed it up pretty good. They had us off balance early. We figured we should just take it at them inside no matter what defense they were in. Josh can score down low on anybody."
Hays was double-teamed during much of the game, and when Westminster chose to have only one defender on Hays, "he decided he was going to score," Harrell said.
Brad Wilden and Todd Christensen were the main offensive threats for Westminster, combining for 45 points. Wilden, who led the team with 25 points, added seven rebounds and four steals, leading the team in those two categories.
Wilden had two rare misses on lay-ups late in the game and also missed two free throws, which hurt the Griffins. But the Lights had their chances, too, missing six free throws down the stretch, including two on a technical foul shot.
"We never miss free throws like that," Harrell said. "I'm not used to seeing this team miss free throws like that." The Lights finished with a 56 percent effort from the free-throw line.
Five Lights players scored in double figures, led by Hays with 18 and Walton with 17. E.J. Little (14), Uros Mirkovic (13) and Graham (12) followed.
Westminster Todd Christensen 20, Steve Cramer 10, Matt Sparrow 6, Brad Wilden 25, Nick Taggart 4, Ben Rajamaki 2.
Northern Jermaine Walton 17, Uros Mirkovic 13, Jeff Graham 12, K.C. Moultrie 5, E.J. Little 14, Faheem Nelson 2, Josh Hays 18.