The Montana State University-Northern men’s basketball team faced a daunting road schedule early on in the season. Now, the Lights will host to have a little post Thanksgiving feast on their home floor.
The No. 23 Lights (7-2) will host t
he Jamestown Jimmies in a pair of nonconference games this weekend, starting with an afternoon tilt today at 2 at the Armory Gymnasium. The Lights and Jimmies will battle again Saturday at 1 p.m. in Havre.
Northern has had a week to rest up for the Jimmies, following a tough road stretch which saw them go 1-1 against two NAIA Top 10 teams two weeks ago in Las Vegas.
And while the rest was certainly good for a young Lights’ squad still growing, MSU-N head coach Shawn Huse said his team is excited to be back at home and looking forward to taking on the Jimmies.
“The week off was really good for us, especially with no travel and not having the physical toll games take on you,” Huse said. “But we still worked really hard last week, and when we came back on Monday, I noticed the guys were really energized and ready to go. So we’re looking forward to getting back after it, especially at home.”
And the Lights will need to get after it against the Jimmies (5-3) today and Saturday. Northern is coming off a big win over No.1-ranked Concordia College of California two weeks ago in Las Vegas, but the Lights are still a work in progress.
MSU-N is still a young team, learning to play together, and the Lights will go the rest of the season without 6-8 center Nilson Santana. The junior college transfer, who was averaging nine points and six rebounds has decided to leave the team and return to his home country of Brazil due to a family emergency.
So, while the Lights got a little smaller in the paint with Santana’s departure, they still have plenty of depth and talent. Senior Devin Jackson leads the team in scoring at just over 14 points per game, while shooter Alfie Miller leads the squad in 3-pointers. Junior point guard Mike LaValley is also playing well as of late. On the inside, Jesse Vaughan, who is second on the team in scoring at 11 points per game, as well as Will Perry and Corbin Pearson, the team’s top rebounders, will have increased roles. As a team, the Lights come into this weekend’s games averaging nine three’s per game, while the Northern defense yields just 61 points per outing.
But Northern will have to play at a high level against Jamestown, the defending champions of the Association of Independent Institutions Conference. The Jimmies went 25-7 a season ago and advanced to the NAIA DII national tournament, and though their under the direction of first-year head coach Justin Wieck, they seemed to have picked up right where they left off a year ago.
“They (Jimmies) are looking good,” Huse said. “They have a new coach and it seems as though they are really starting to play well as they learn the new system.
“This is very much a quality NAIA opponent we’re playing,” he added. “They will be as good as anyone we’ve seen this season and these two games will certainly be very much like Frontier Conference games.”
The Jimmies have three outstanding guards led by 6-3 junior Mark Hoge, who already has a 30-point game to his credit this season. Taylor Newton (6-0) is a deadly 3-point shooter and 6-5 swingman Davon Thomas is a scoring threat and a defensive stopper. The Jimmies also offer some size with the likes of 6-7 frosh Dan Janu and 6-6 sophomore Beny Collins.
And with back-to-back games against the same quality opponent, and the Lights’ Frontier Conference opener against Carroll College just a week away, this weekend is ultra-important in Northern’s progress.
“It’s going to be a big challenge playing Jamestown twice,” Huse said. “But it’s good for us. It’s two more games against a quality team for us to learn and get better, and they are a team who will help us prepare for what we’ll face in the Frontier Conference.”
Today’s game between Northern and Jamestown tips off at 2 at the Armory Gymnasium. The game between the Lights and Jimmies on Saturday will get underway at 1 p.m. Northern is back home to take on Carroll College on Dec. 30.