The Montana State University-Northern men’s basketball team will play its two most important games of the season this weekend. There’s no doubt about that. But for the moment, the Lights are only worried about one of them.
Tonight, No. 20 Northern (9-3, 21-5) puts its five-game winning streak on the line when the Lights travel to Dillon to take on the UM-Western Bulldogs (7-5, 14-9). Northern also visits Westminster College Saturday night in Salt Lake City.
Tonight’s game is huge for both teams, but especially for the Lights, who are tied with Rocky Mountain College for first in the Frontier Conference standings. A road win at Western would certainly help bolster Northern’s chances of winning the Frontier’s regular season title, but more importantly, the Lights just want to keep playing well. They want to build off of last weekend’s thrilling wins over Montana Tech and Lewis-Clark State in Havre.
“Obviously, we’re playing two teams that have proven to be very good this season,” MSU-N head coach Shawn Huse said. “And they are both very good at home. But for us, we’re simply focused on playing well and doing the things that have gotten us to this point. And we’re focused on continuing to get better. I believe we still have to get better, and we can get better. That’s the goal this weekend.”
Huse also believes to win on the road, his team must be 10 points better than it is at home. That will be a tall order tonight as the Lights already beat the Bulldogs 61-52 last month in Havre. And now, Western is at home, and playing for its playoff and national tournament life, so Northern will be walking into a hostile environment in Dillon.
Northern will also be facing a good team on its home floor. The Bulldogs are led by forward Jake Owsley (6-8) and guard Maazin Butler (6-1), but they also get plenty of production elsewhere. In fact, eight different Western players average between 15 and eight points per night. As a team, the Bulldogs can put points up in a hurry as well. UM-W is averaging 77 points per game, but has scored 90 or more in six different league outings.
Still, the Lights go into tonight’s game with momentum. Five straight wins, including last weekend’s stunners have put the Lights in a good position going into the final two weeks of conference play. Alfie Miller is averaging 16 points per night, but contributions from all over the lineup, as well as the Frontier’s top-rated defense have played a big part in MSU-N’s recent success.
Northern is also playing with confidence right now, and Huse is hoping to see that confidence carry over into this weekend’s road trip.
“I think, in both games this weekend, we have to play better than we did when we played these two teams the first time,” Huse said. “That comes with wanting to improve. I also think, despite how tough these two teams are at home, our guys are confident that they can beat anybody anywhere. Right now, it’s a matter of execution. We have to go down to Western and execute well on offense and defense for 40 minutes.”
Tonight’s game between the Lights and Bulldogs is slated to tip at 7:30 in Dillon. Northern visits Westminster Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in Salt Lake City.