The Montana State University-Northern men’s basketball team began the season with four new starters and a bevy of new faces in a program which has claimed the last two Frontier Conference championships.
And while the Lights have
bolted out of the gates, winning 13 of their first 15 games, including a 1-0 start to conference play, the scenario in which the Lights started the season still exists as they re-open Frontier play at home tonight.
The No. 22 Lights begin the full conference season tonight at 8 in the Armory Gymnasium as they play host to the Dickinson State Blue Hawks. MSU-N will also host Rocky Mountain College Friday night at 8 p.m.
“I’m really proud of what this team has achieved so far,” Northern head coach Shawn Huse said. “I really like our chemistry right now. I think this team has done a great job of gelling and playing well together.
“But at the same time, we’re still a team with just one returning starter and only a handful of guys who have been through a full season in the Frontier Conference,” he continued. “So we’re still going to have those moments where we’re learning, where we’re still finding ourselves. We’re not where we want to be yet. But certainly, we’ve done well so far to prepare ourselves for what we’re going to face in conference play.”
The Lights (13-2, 1-0) have done well indeed. Northern is once again among the NAIA leaders in scoring defense, allowing just 59 points per game. On offense, MSU-N puts up 73 points and is once again an outstanding 3-point shooting team. The Lights average 10 made three’s per game and shoot a solid 38 percent from beyond the arc. Individually, MSU-N gets 15 points per game from senior Devin Jackson, while Alfie Miller comes off the bench to score 11. MSU-N is also extremely balanced with Roshawn West, Will Perry, Jesse Vaughan and Corbin Pearson all averaging between six and 10 points per night.
And MSU-N will have to continue that type of production this weekend and beyond.
Tonight’s game will feature a DSU team (6-9, 0-1) which is surging as of late. The Blue Hawks recently lost star scorer Matthew Lee, but they are no less dangerous. On offense, 6-4 forward Johnie Sanders and 6-7 forward Jarek Hansen lead the way by combing to score 24 points per game. DSU also gets good production from point guard Ty Ackelson. And while the Blue Hawks can score, they do struggle on defense, giving up a league worst 71 points per night, yet they are one of the better rebounding clubs in the league.
“They (Blue Hawks) have been playing well lately,” Huse said. “They are always a very scrappy team, they hustle and they get after it on the boards. They play very hard and we expect them to come in and do just that against us. And we have to match that intensity right from the start.”
Matching the Blue Hawk’s intensity shouldn’t be a problem for a Lights’ squad which has lost just once on their home floor in almost the last three seasons. Yet, they know they will not only get a test from DSU tonight, but from a much-improved Rocky Mountain team on Friday.
After a couple of down years following the 2009 NAIA national championship, RMC (10-5, 1-0) appears ready to get back into the fold of the Frontier. The Bears are off to a solid start this season, and they have a deep and talented roster, led by junior center Joel Barndt. The 6-9 powerhouse is averaging 16 points and nine rebounds per game, and is a matchup problem for the smaller Lights on both ends of the floor.
As a team, the Bears average 78 points per game while allowing 68, and they are the top rebounding squad in the Frontier. Rocky gets 15 points and six rebounds from 6-6 Jeremy Nicholas, while ultra-quick guards Malachi Roberts and Don Parham combine to score 24 per game. And the Bears don’t just have size, they have a deep and talented bench, and they will certainly give the Lights a stern challenge on Friday night.
“They (Bears) appear to be as loaded as any team in the Frontier right now,” Huse said. “I think they’ve shored up the areas they needed to and now they are really playing well. With their size and athleticism, and all of the things they do well on both end’s of the floor, we know it’s going to take a heck of an effort to be successful against them.”
And success is exactly what the Lights are looking for on their home floor this weekend. The games against DSU and RMC mark the start of Northern’s march towards a third straight regular season Frontier title, and a chance at a third straight postseason crown.
“It’s Frontier Conference time,” Huse said. “And there’s never a dull moment. There’s no easy nights in this league, and being that we are still a new team, and being undersized, we’re going to have to work extra hard in order to be successful. We understand this league is going to be a grind, and it’s going to take a lot of hard work every night. And that starts this weekend.”
Tonight’s game between the Lights and Blue Hawks tips off at 8 at the Armory Gymnasium. Friday’s battle between Northern and Rocky begins at 8 p.m. as well. The Lights are one the road next Thursday to take on UM-Western and next Saturday at Westminster.
Lights vs DSU tonight at 6 p.m.; vs RMC Friday at 6 p.m.
Lights Probable Starters
G Roshawn West, 6-0, Jr.
G Devin Jackson, 6-1, Sr.
G Allan Brown, 6-1, Jr.
F Will Perry, 6-4, Jr.
F Jesse Vaughan, 6-5, Jr.