Lights bounce back with win
It may be cliche but it doesn't make it any less true -you are only as good as your last game. And the Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team wasn't very good in its last game before Tuesday night.
Barely three days after a disappointing overtime loss to Mount Royal College, the Lights came out with a purpose against the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Trojans - to erase all memories of the Saturday's less than ambitious performance.
The Lights did just that, playing with a Frontier Conference-like intensity, rolling to a 101-62 win before a sizable crowd at the MSU-Northern gymnasium.
After questioning his team's mental preparation and character in its last game, Northern head coach Shawn Huse had little to question following Tuesday's performance.
"I definitely think our concentration level, our energy level was much higher," Huse said. "We played like we had nothing to lose and everything to prove. It was completely different from the other night."
With the Frontier Conference opener looming, the Lights had to prove to themselves and to Huse that the loss to Mount Royal was an aberration.
Northern wasted little time, rolling to a 21-9 lead to open the game. The increased intensity and energy level was apparent early, but it might have been a little too high in the game's first few minutes as the Lights struggled to adjust to SAIT's swarming 2-3 zone defense.
It wasn't that Northern was surprised with the zone - the Lights knew it was coming - it was more a problem of being just too keyed up early on.
"They had it in the paper that they played a zone," Huse said. "We touched up on it a little during our shootaround. Most importantly, we expected to see it and it didn't catch us off-guard. We knew what we wanted to against it. It just took us awhile to settle into it after those opening jitters."
Indeed, Northern looked anxious against the zone early on, forcing passes and taking a few tough shots. But five minutes into the game, the Lights started breaking down the zone and getting some easy baskets.
With SAIT up 6-5, Lamar Morinia sank a long three-pointer from the wing, picked up a steal on the ensuing possession and punctuated it with a one-handed slam dunk to give Northern a lead it would never relinquish.
"Coach told us before the game that the best way too break down a zone is with penetration," said Morinia. "Early on we were tentative, waiting on for someone to do that, I got in there a couple times and it started to break down."
With Morinia getting into the middle with either drives or dropping quick passes to the high post, the zone started giving up some wide-open looks from three-point range - looks that Northern didn't miss.
Morinia along with brother Larry, Landen Grant and Travis Moran all sank three-pointers as Northern went up 35-17.
"You have to be able shoot it from outside in college basketball if team plays zone against you," Huse said. "That's the dangerous part about playing zone in college is that players are better shooters and you can give up some three's."
As the Lights picked apart SAIT's defense, their own defense clamped down, allowing just the Trojans to score just five points during a 10-minute span of the game as the lead ballooned to 19 points. Northern shut down the Trojan's leading scorer, Eddie Richardson III, who came into the game averaging 24 points per game, limiting him to four points in the first half.
"Landen Grant did a nice job on Richardson," Huse said. "He's really stepped into that role of defending opponents' top scorers. Overall, I thought our whole team did a good job defensively."
Northern's defense forced enough turnovers and missed shots to push the tempo of the game to a faster pace, much faster than SAIT wanted to play at. Northern forced 28 Trojan turnovers, several leading to easy baskets in transition.
"Against Mount Royal we weren't denying the ball and playing the way we should defensively," Morinia said. "We made conscious effort to do that tonight. We got some steals and were able to get out on the break."
Up 52-29 at halftime, Northern didn't let up in the second half. Three-pointers from Lamar Morinia and Grant and a pair of steals and layups from the both Morinia's turned a rout into a blowout. After solving SAIT's zone in the first half, Northern continued to exploit it in new ways as Trenton Harbaugh's alley-oop dunk and Dustin Sawejka's nifty spin move inside pushed the lead to 71-38.
"They just stayed in that zone the whole time and we just kept getting good looks against it," Morinia said. "We kept getting into the high post and making good passes against it."
Said Huse: "We did a good job of sharing the ball and moving the ball the around to get good looks. We played really unselfishly, which is good to see."
Northern shot a solid 54 percent from the field and turned the ball over just 18 times, while placing five players in double figures led by Lamar Morinia's 19 points. Reid Stovall scored 17 points on a variety of putbacks and scores inside. Sawejka came off the bench to score 16 points and grab nine rebounds. Larry Morinia added 13 points while Harbaugh chipped in with 12 points and nine boards.
Richardson led SAIT with 14 points, most of them coming with game already out of reach. Emmanuel Chiek added 11 points off the bench for the Trojans.
The win left Huse decidedly more positive about his team's inspired performance and effort.
"A lot of that has to do with our last game we played," Huse said. "We watched the film and it wasn't pretty. Those images were still burned in the back of our players mind when we stepped on the floor tonight. I'm sure they had a hard time sleeping after the loss, but this will definitely help."
Northern will open conference play on Saturday at 8 p.m. against the University of Great Falls Argos at the MSU-Northern gymnasium.
NOTES: Former Browning standout Mike Chavez was in attendance at Tuesday's game. Chavez, who left the UM Grizzlies earlier in the season for personal reasons, was in town to watch former teammates Leo Bullchild of Northern and Alden Spoonhunter of SAIT. According to reports, Chavez is supposed to be headed back to UM for the spring semester.
SO. ALBERTA INS. OF TECHNOLOGY (62)
Rob Meidl 3-5 2-2 8, Jamie McLeod 1-5 0-0 2, Fabian Warner 2-4 1-2 5, Oliver Sargent 2-7 0-0 4, Eddie Richardson III 5-13 2-2 14, Alden Spoonhunter 1-3 1-2 4, Mike Stevens 0-1 0-0 0, Nabil Bushnaq 2-4 0-0 5, Ryan McGavern 1-2 0-0 2, Richard Spriggs 2-3 5-6 7, Emmanuel Chiek 2-3 5-6 11. Totals: 21-51 14-17 62.
Larry Morinia 4-8 4-4 13, Reid Stovall 7-12 3-5 17, Lamar Morinia 7-11 2-3 19, Landen Grant 2-7 0-1 6, Trenton Harbaugh 5-9 2-3 12, Zach McLean 1-2 0-0 2, Leo Bullchild 3-7 2-2 8, Walter Runsabove 0-2 0-0 0, Travis Moran 3-4 0-0 8, Dustin Sawejka 7-10 2-2 16. Totals: 39-72 15-20 101.
Halftime: MSUN 52, SAIT 29. Three-point goals: SAIT 6-14 (Richardson 2-4, Spoonhunter 1-2, Bushnaq 1-2 McGavern 0-1, Chiek 2-2), MSUN 8-23 (Larry Morinia 1-4, Lamar Morinia 3-6, Grant 2-5, McLean 0-1, Bullchild 0-1, Runsabove 0-2, Moran 2-3, Sawejka 0-1). Rebounds: SAIT 27 (Warner 7); MSUN 42 (Harbaugh 9, Sawejka 9) Assists: SAIT 4 (McLeod 2); MSUN 24 (McLean 5). Total fouls: SAIT 20, MSUN 20. Fouled out - none; Technicals - none.