Sometimes, when a team has its back against the wall, it can be a dangerous situation, even when the opposition is heavily favored.
That is what the No. 13 Montana State University-Northern men’s basketball team ran into Thursday night in Billings. Needing a win to ensure a Frontier Conference playoff berth, the Rocky Mountain College Battlin Bears got exactly that when they upset the Lights 65-58 in overtime. The loss dropped the Lights (10-5, 22-7) into a second-place tie with UM-Western and also guaranteed the Lewis-Clark State Warriors an outright Frontier Conference regular season title.
Northern played from behind for a good portion of the second half, mainly due to shooting a dismal percentage from the field, and especially from the 3-point-line where the Lights went just 6-for-34. Still, MSU-N, which trailed by as many as seven points in the final stanza, managed to catch the Bears at 54-54 and force overtime.
From there however, Rocky seemed to seize control. The Bears got a driving layup from Joel Barndt to break the deadlock, and the Bears put the Lights away from there.
“If we were even a half of our regular selves on offense, as a group, we would have been in much greater position to come out on top tonight,” MSU-N head coach Shawn Huse said. “Give credit to Rocky for keeping us off-balance, but we suspected their mixing defenses. We have seen that kind of thing all year and done a much better job against it than we did tonight. I am not disappointed in our effort as we did a very good job of defending and executing. I am disappointed in our shot conversions, particularly from the outside. I never thought it was possible for this team to shoot that poorly.”
The Lights did shoot poorly, but in the first half, RMC wasn’t much better, as both teams struggled from the field. However, Northern did manage to pull away to an early six-point lead, only to see the Bears regroup and earn a 29-25 halftime edge. From there, the game was a battle until RMC took over in the extra frame.
Jesse Vaughan scored a season-high 20 points to go along with seven rebounds and two three’s. Devin Jackson and Corbin Pearson each added 10 points, while RMC got 18 points from the 6-8 Barndt.
Thursday’s loss, coupled with last week’s setback at home to UM-Western erased Northern’s chances of sharing a third straight Frontier regular season title. Now the Lights will try to hold on to the No. 2 seed in next week’s Frontier playoffs. Northern will need a win at Dickinson State on Saturday night, and a LCSC win over UM-Western in order to remain the No. 2 seed.
Rocky 65, Lights 58 OT
MSU-N — Corbin Pearson 4-7 2-4 10, Jesse Vaughan 7-14 4-4 20, Roshawn West 3-9 1-2 7, Devin Jackson 2-9 4-4 10, Alan Brown 0-1 0-0 0, Dontae Clark 0-0 0-0 0, Savion Udeh 0-1 0-0 0, Mike LaValley 0-1 0-0 0, Will Perry 2-3 1-2 5, Alfie Miller 2-14 0-1 6. Totals: 20-59 12-17 58. 3-point goals: 6-34 (Jackson 2-5, Vaughan 2-7, Miller 2-13, Brown 0-1, Udeh 0-1, LaValley 0-1, West 0-6). Fouls: 14. Fouled out: Pearson. Rebounds: 31 (Pearson 7, Vaughan 7). Assists: 9 (Pearson 2, Vaughan 2). Steals: 8 (West 2, Jackson 2, Perry 2, Miller 2). Blocked shots: 1 (Udeh). Turnovers: 9.
RMC — Joel Barndt 6-13 5-6 18, Jeremy Nicolas 3-8 3-4 9, Don Parham 6-12 0-0 14, Matt Strickland 1-6 1-2 4, Malachi Roberts 1-4 1-2 4, Nile Finney 2-5 0-0 4, John Bayo 1-2 0-0 2, Joe Stulc 2-2 0-0 6, Lincoln Powers 2-3 0-0 4. Totals: 24-55 10-14 65. 3-point goals: 7-13 (Stulc 2-2, Parham 2-5, Barndt 1-1, Roberts 1-1, Strickland 1-2, Nicolas 0-1, Finney 0-1). Fouls: 15. Rebounds: 44 (Nicolas 11). Assists: 11 (Nicolas 3). Steals: 6 (Parham 2). Blocked shots: 1 (Nicolas). Turnovers: 17.
Halftime: Rocky 29, MSU-Northern 25.