By Ryan Divish
There are certain situations that you can't simulate in practice. No matter how hard you try, the only way is to experience them is in a game. The Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team found itself in a pair of those situations this weekend and responded positively.
The Lights rallied from a 9-point second-half deficit on Saturday to defeat the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns 94-87 in the second game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic fund-raiser at the MSU-Northern gymnasium.
On Friday night, Northern maintained its focus and poise despite playing a clearly outmanned Canadian Bible College squad. The Lights drubbed Canadian Bible 102-44.
Both games presented Northern with new situations: how to play when you're behind by more than a couple scores late in the game and how to play when you're up big.
"You can't simulate everything in practice," said Lights head coach Shawn Huse. "Some things you find out about your team in games."
And what Huse found out was good.
After taking a 43-41 halftime lead, Northern watched as Lethbridge came out strong to open the second half. Three dunks from Thom Hudel and a three-pointer from Alan Spoonhunter gave the Pronghorns a 50-48 lead.
Two more jumpshots from Spoonhunter, a Hudel putback and a Darcy Day Chief three-pointer gave Lethbridge its biggest lead of the game at 59-50.
It was the first time this season that the Lights found themselves down by that much in the second half. Northern responded positively, going on a 15-4 run highlighted by a three-point play from Reid Stovall and three-pointers from Zach McLean and Travis Moran.
"We really battled back," Huse said. "It showed we have confidence in ourselves to know we can come back when we face that situation."
Larry Morinia's steal and emphatic dunk and McLean's second three-pointer of the night gave Northern an 83-75 lead.
In its only loss of the season, Northern had been in a similar position leading late at the end of the game, but didn't make free throws to seal the game. This time the Lights made their free throws and Lethbridge ran out of gas and big men as three players fouled out.
"Lethbridge was a good team," Huse said. "Their first five guys could compete in the Frontier Conference. They shot the ball well. I had a feeling they would shoot the ball better against us."
The Pronghorns shot 51 percent from the field and knocked down eight three-pointers. However, they were plagued by 19 turnovers. They had three players in double figures with Day Chief leading the way with 26 points. Hudel and Spoonhunter finished with 25 and 22 points, respectively.
Northern showed good balance, placing all five starters in double figures led by Moran's 20 points.
"That shows we're still very unselfish as a team," Huse said.
Huse was also pleased with Northern's minimal eight turnovers in the up and down contest.
"Usually when we create a lot of turnovers we tend to commit a lot," Huse said. "But we really took care of the ball much better."
If Saturday night tested whether the Lights could play from behind, Friday night was a test to see if they could play with a lead.
Canadian Bible College was clearly overmatched from the opening tip. Early in the game, Northern struggled a little, trying to find a rhythm, but once they did there was no stopping them. The Lights cruised to a 43-19 lead in the first half and never looked back.
While it wasn't pretty at times, Huse was very pleased with the way his team kept its focus during the second half.
"It's hard to find a rhythm in a game like that," Huse said. "I was proud of the team for playing hard and playing focused. We didn't get lazy or do things that cause bad habits. We didn't taunt them. We just played. Canadian Bible doesn't play in a league, but they didn't quit."
Northern had six players in double figures with McLean and Kent Douglas each scoring 19 apiece to lead the Lights. Northern got solid play off the bench as Stovall, Koire Rogers and Brian McGowan also all scored in double figures.
"Reid came and gave us a spark in both games," Huse said. "He just seems to make things happen."
In other tournament action, Carroll College defeated Lethbridge 101-76 on Friday and defeated Canadian Bible 98-40 on Saturday.
"The tournament ran pretty smoothly," Huse said. "I want to thank Super 8 for sponsoring it. I haven't seen the official numbers we raised, but I saw a lot of dollars in the dollar bin."
Northern will return to action on Nov. 23-24 when the team travels to North Dakota to face Minot State and Dickinson State.