Skylights sweep Cascade Conference powers
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George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor [email protected]
For the second straight weekend, both the Montana State University- Northern men's and women's basketball teams were facing difficult nonconference road games. And for the second straight week, the Lights earned a hard-fought split, while the Skylights turned things around with a difficult road sweep. The MSU-N men were in Lewiston, Idaho this weekend for a tournament hosted by Frontier Conference power Lewis-Clark State. On Friday night, the Lights had a rematch with Eastern Oregon, and for the second week in a row, the Mountaineers downed the Lights, this time by a score of 68-50. But the Lights returned to the court Saturday to race past Evergreen State, 89-72. Both EOU and Evergreen are considered top tier teams in the NAIA Division II Cascade Conference. "Overall we learned a lot as a team once again this weekend," MSU-N head coach Shawn Huse said. "At this point I would say if we can consistently play as smart as we did on Saturday we'll be tough to beat. If we make the mistakes we did on Friday, anybody could beat us. It was ultimately good to see us playing better on the second night. To me, this shows our squad is improving rather than going backwards." Northern fell to EOU last Friday in Butte, but in that game, the Lights actually had a big lead on the Mounties, only to see them come back and win late. That wasn't the case on Friday in Idaho. The Mounties jumped on Northern early and led 37-20 at the end of the first half. MSU-N shot the ball better in the second half, but couldn't make up the large deficit. Junior point guard Eric Tisby was the only Light to reach double figures in the loss, scoring a team-high 15 points. Justin Dennis added nine points and Brian Santiago had eight points, while Clay Greenland had six rebounds. Saturday was a different story all together for MSU-N. The Lights shot the ball at a high percentage in the first half, and led 42-33 en route to an 89-72 win over Evergreen. Dennis hit four 3-pointers on his way to a team-high 24 points, and Walynn Burgess had a big game inside for Northern, scoring 22 points and grabbing nine boards. Andrew Sellars also played well, dropping in 15 points, five rebounds, five assists and a steal as Northern improved to 4-4 on the season. "Eastern Oregon plays good basketball and will be a tough team to beat in the Cascade," Huse said. "They gave us fits from the perimeter, inside and in transition. As a team, we were not very sharp in any aspect. I do suspect some of that stems from so many new guys being unfamiliar with that length of a road trip, but it was good experience for league travel and play. "On Saturday we shot the ball, rebounded, defended in the half-court (and in transition), much, much better," Huse added. "Walynn had a great night on the boards and finishing around the bucket. Our guards did an exceptional job of passing, finishing at the rim on their drives and shooting from all over the floor. We got an outstanding team effort versus a talented Evergreen squad, and it paid off. They are not an easy team to gain an advantage on, let alone beat by a double digit score. We played our first complete basketball game of the season on this night, in my opinion. We defended very well, our turnovers were low, we got the shots we wanted to take from the guys we wanted taking them in the right moments, and we converted a very good percentage from all three areas. And we needed to, as they (Evergreen) have a great chance of getting to the NAIA DII tournament and winning games just like last year." Meanwhile, the Skylights, coming off two difficult losses against NAIA powers last weekend in Great Falls, spent Thanksgiving weekend at a tournament hosted by Evergreen State in Olympia, Wash. And Northern played well, and picked up two much-needed wins, beating Northwest University on Friday night and Evergreen on Saturday. "This was big for us," MSU-N head coach Chris Mouat said. "To go on the road, play two really good teams in essentially home games for both of them, and get two wins, it was big for us." On Friday night, the Skylights played at a high level offensively, riding a hot-shooting night from guards Samm Schermele and Taylor Keller to an 82-73 win over Northwest. The Skylights were up eight points at the half, played with a lead and wound up shooting 54 percent from the field for the game, as well as 8-of-19 from three. Schermele hit four three's on her way to a game-high 23 points. The junior guard also pulled down six rebounds and had three assists, while her backcourt mate, Keller, poured in 18 points. Senior forward Zivile Gaizutyte added 15 points and six boards in the win. "We played well in the first half, and the big thing was, we played well with the lead," Mouat said. "We handled their pressure in the second half, and we got really good contributions from everybody. All 10 players we had scored and everybody played really well. It was a good team win against a really solid team." On Saturday night in Olympia, Northern was also victorious over host Evergreen State. But it was the Skylight defense which shone bright. Northern held Evergreen to just 17 first-half points and wound up pulling away late to win 59-46. Schermele was again the catalyst, scoring 21 points, including four treys. Gaizutyte chipped in with 12 points and five rebounds, while Taylor Keller hit 9-of-10 free throws to score nine points, and Casceal Swaggard added seven points and five board off the bench as the Skylights improved to 3-5 on the young season. "They (Evergreen) are a really solid team," Mouat said. "And we didn't play as well offensively as we would have liked against them. But I was really proud of the way we defended them and playing so well on defense allowed us to get a lead and we did a good job holding on to it. "These were two good wins for our team and we needed them both," he added. "I'm proud of our kids for going on the road, staying composed and playing well. We're really happy with these two wins." Both the Lights and Skylights will be back on the road this weekend at the new Frontier Conference Preview Tournament in Butte. The Lights will face UGF on Friday night and defending NAIA national champion Rocky Mountain College on Saturday, both nonconference affairs. Meanwhile, the Skylights are facing a road triple-header this weekend. On Friday night, they'll square off against Carroll College and Saturday, they'll take on Montana Tech. The MSU-N women also travel to Bozeman on Sunday for a matchup with the Montana State University Bobcats.