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George Ferguson Column: I still can't believe what I saw in the Armory

From the Fringe...


February 10, 2014

Daniel Horton

Montana State University-Northern students cheer on the Lights during Saturday night's dramatic game against Lewis-Clark State at the Armory Gymnasium. Saturday night was Pink night in honor of breast cancer awareness.

I’m getting old, and I like old ’80s music. And I love the song “Crazy Nights” by Kiss.

So, it’s no wonder that song is dancing through my head considering that’s exactly what the last two nights in the Armory Gymnasium were.

The Montana State University-Northern men’s and women’s basketball teams were home this weekend to host Frontier Conference rivals Montana Tech and Lewis-Clark State. As is always the case this time of year, the stakes are high for the Lights and Skylights, who are both fighting for things like Frontier regular season titles, Frontier playoff seeding and chances to get to the NAIA national tournament.

But what we, as Northern fans, witnessed this weekend in Havre went well beyond just a couple of intense late-season basketball games.

The Northern women didn’t give fans much drama to start the weekend. Instead, the Skylights thoroughly dispatched the Orediggers Friday night. But what followed in the men’s game, I’m still scratching my head.

First, the probability of winning a basketball game when you’re behind by five points with :11 left has to be pretty low, even with the 3-point shot. But that’s exactly what the Lights did to Montana Tech.

So many things happened in the closing minute of that game, it’s still hard to wrap my head around them all. But here’s a few things I just couldn’t believe. I actually couldn’t believe Montana Tech missed three free throws in the closing minute, which, honestly, the Lights absolutely needed in order to have a chance to win. I especially couldn’t believe Montana Tech’s Bryan Bock, who, to me, seemed like he didn’t miss a shot all night, missed the free throw with :05 left to give MSU-N a chance.

I also can’t believe the referees actually called the foul that sent Corbin Pearson to the line with literally no time on the clock with a chance to win or send the game to overtime, which Pearson did the latter. Now, I’m not saying Pearson wasn’t fouled because it sure looked like he got mugged to me. But often times, with the clock expiring, officials will let a lot of contact go, not wanting to decide the final outcome. It’s a judgement call, and I’ve seen it go both ways, but I have to admit, when I saw the official signal a foul — I couldn’t hear the whistle because the Northern fans were roaring at that point — I was stunned.

Those were just a few of the things I couldn’t believe from Friday night’s miraculous win. On the other hand, I certainly wasn’t surprised to see Pearson make two free throws to send it into overtime. I wasn’t stunned that Alfie Miller buried a 3-pointer moments before to keep the Lights alive, and the fact that Northern came back and won in overtime, that certainly didn’t surprise me one bit. The Lights have heart and grit and toughness, and with all due to respect to the Orediggers, who played a tremendous game, I knew the Lights would win once overtime started.

But no matter what I believed or the things I couldn’t fathom in Friday night’s game, it was one crazy night. And the Lights and Skylights were just getting warmed up because the craziness started all over again 24 hours later.

When the LC State Warriors came calling, things got just as crazy, and the song was playing in my head for all four hours of basketball Saturday night.

It was certainly unthinkable that the Skylights would only score eight points in the first half of Saturday’s women’s game, no matter how good LCSC is. But what was special about that game is that Northern almost came back and won.

A lot of teams, at any level of basketball, would have thrown in the towel down 32-8 at halftime and down by as many as 26 points in the second half. But not Northern. Instead, the Skylights fought, scratched and clawed their way back into the game, and got as close as seven points with time winding down.

To me, that was crazy, but I wasn’t surprised. Northern head coach Chris Mouat is special, and so is his team. The Skylights fought valiantly and never gave up, and in what went from a blowout to the second crazy game of the weekend, I was as impressed with Northern in that loss as I was with any of the great victories the Skylights have had this season.

And the crazy night wasn’t quite over.

Back in the gym after a miracle win Friday night, the Lights found themselves trailing by 17 points with 13 minutes left. LCSC was playing one of its best games of the season and didn’t look like it was going to slow down any time soon. Game over. Good night.

But in the immortal words of the great Lee Corso “Not so fast, my friends.” In just five minutes, the Lights ripped off a 16-2 run and wrestled the lead, if only briefly, away from the Warriors. Guts and heart on display yet again.

LCSC didn’t fold, but the Lights had the momentum, and they didn’t let go in one of their biggest second-half comebacks of the Shawn Huse era.

Daniel Horton

Corbin Pearson, middle, celebrates a big play during the Lights comeback from 17 points down against Lewis-Clark State Saturday night in Havre.

Now, it’s not crazy to me that the Lights had the heart, character and toughness to come back two nights in a row, but what is crazy to me is, they did it against an LC State team playing at a tremendous level on both ends of the floor. I mean, these two teams Northern beat this weekend were playing about as well as two teams have against the Lights all season long.

Yet, the Lights once again found a way as they have done so often this season. Friday’s overtime win was the third OT win in conference play for the Lights this season. And Northern has trailed in the second half in 10 of its 12 league games this year. Yes, these Lights are resilient.

This weekend was crazy from start to finish. Crazy shots, crazy calls, crazy momentum swings, crazy crowds, crazy emotions and most of all, crazy Frontier Conference basketball games.

I really can’t quite believe what I just saw over the last two nights at the Armory. And what’s crazy is the Lights and Skylights have, at the very least, two homes left. And after what I saw this weekend, I have no idea what they’ll do for an encore.


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