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Frontier Time in the Armory: Lights host powerful rivals in UGF, Carroll


January 7, 2016

Roger Miller

Montana State University-Northern's Dylan Tatarka drives the ball during a game against Concrodia-Edmonton last Sunday in Havre. The Lights are ready to open Frontier Conference play tonight at 8 against UGF, before hosting nationally ranked Carroll College Saturday night, also in the Armory Gymnasium.

The Montana State University-Northern Lights have three main rivals when it comes to Frontier Conference basketball. And, they're opening the 2016 Frontier season with two of them, on back-to-back nights.

Fortunately for the No. 23 Lights (12-1, 1-1), those games will be played inside the Armory Gymnasium, starting with tonight's battle with the UGF Argos (7-4, 0-2). Northern will then welcome in No. 16 Carroll College (10-3, 3-0) for a showdown of nationally ranked teams Friday night.

And while both games will be tough for the Lights, they come into the restart of Frontier play feeling good about where they're at, and what they've built so far. Northern has not only climbed into the national rankings, but the Lights have already proved themselves in league play, having won in overtime at Rocky Mountain College last month.

MSU-N also leads the league in scoring defense, allowing just 64 points per game, while the Lights are shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc. And those two things, along with the Lights' veteran leadership, will go a long way in league play, including this weekend.

"I really like where this team is at," MSU-N head coach Shawn Huse said. "Our chemistry is really a strong point of this team, and I think we've grown a lot since the start of the season. We have two games coming up against two very good teams, but we feel like we're a good team too."

Northern is good. And the Lights' balance makes them a tough matchup for both the Argos and Saints. MSU-N has nine players who play more than 18 minutes per game, and seven players who average seven points or more per outing. Warren Edmondson leads the way with his 13 points per night, while Tyler Chandler averages 12 off the bench, Trevail Lee and David Straughter each score 10, and K.J. Rech is adding nine points per night.

However, as tough a matchup as the Lights can be for the opposition, the same can be said for the two teams coming to Havre this week.

UGF may have struggled out of the gate, and is 0-2 in conference play, but the Argos are once again a very good defensive club, and they certainly don't lack for athletic talent. Led by returning star Sigman Farmer III (6-1), senior guard Darren Lockett (6-3) and senior center Daniel Arcau (6-9), the Argos have leadership, but they do lack experience, and coach Anthony Owens' roster is filled with young players and newcomers. Still, the likes of Sergio Berkley (6-3) and newcomers Jarret Givens (6-4), Lamar Falley (6-4) and Gerald Watkins (6-5) give the Argos a deep and athletic team, who looks like they just need more experience.

"From what I've seen of UGF, they are another really tough conference opponent," Huse said. "They get after you defensively. They play really hard and are very disruptive. They are athletic, and that makes them tough on both ends of the floor. So, execution against them is really critical."

The Argos are especially tough on the defensive end, allowing just 66 points per game. But, they can score too. Farmer plays much bigger than he is in the post, while Givens and Falley combine to score 24 points per game.

And while the Argos are a big rival of Northern's, there's no denying Friday night's showdown with Carroll is highly anticipated.

For a couple of seasons, Carroll seemed to drop completely off the map, but that's not the case any longer. Carson Cunningham's rebuilding of the Saints is starting to look complete, and thanks to a boatload of returning talent, and a schedule that has seen Carroll play several Pac 12 powers, the Saints head into the heart of conference play ready to beat any team in their way.

"Carroll has a lot of pieces," Huse said. "They have a couple of true, go-to guys. They are very sound and they don't make a lot of mistakes. You have to really be ready to execute against them on both ends of the floor."

Carroll is making a living this season on the defensive end and on the glass, but make no mistake, the Saints can be an explosive offensive team. Dynamic point guard Zach Taylor (6-0) is one of the best 3-point shooters in the NAIA, and he's averaging 20 points per game this season. Sophomore center Oliver Carr (6-6) is blossoming into one of the best big men in the league, and Carroll's depth, which includes Ryan Imhoff (6-6), veteran Jake Hollifield (6-5) and true freshman standout Matt Wyman (6-7) makes the Saints a team that can be extremely difficult to guard.

Of course, guarding teams is what Northern does best, and the Lights will lean on their defense and their home-court advantage to try and get a head start on the Frontier title chase. Because, with four more games in the Armory over the next two weeks, if Northern plays well, the Lights will really put themselves in a great position heading into the stretch run of the season.

For now however, Northern is focused on two big rivals this weekend, and, while they will both be challenging games, Huse said his team is looking forward to meeting those challenges.

"I like where we're at going into these games," Huse said. "We've shown we can compete with and beat anybody. We just need to be focused and be ready to play Northern basketball for 40 minutes every night. If we do that, we'll be in good shape."

Tonight's game between Northern and UGF tips at 8 in the Armory Gymnasium. The Lights and Saints will also meet at 8 p.m. Friday night.


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