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Lights set to face road battles at RMC, UM-Western

 

Last updated 2/2/2017 at 7:01pm

Colin Thompson

Montana State University-Northern's Justin Dunsmore, right, handles the ball during a game against Rocky Mountain College last month in Havre. The Lights play at RMC tonight, as well as at UM-Western Saturday.

The Montana State University-Northern men’s basketball team just wrapped up a six-game Frontier Conference home stand. Now, the Lights will be away from the friendly confines of the Armory Gymnasium for the same length of time.

Northern (5-5, 16-6) starts a six-game road trip tonight with a rematch against the Rocky Mountain College Battlin’ Bears. The weekend continues with a visit to nationally-ranked UM-Western Saturday night.

“I feel like it will be good for us to get out on the road and see what we can do,” Northern head coach Shawn Huse said. “The games will be tough, but they always are in this conference. It doesn’t matter if you’re at home or on the road, games in this league are difficult every night.”

Difficult games are nothing new to the Lights either. Northern just played six of them at home in which the Lights split, going 3-3 over the last three weeks. That stretch left MSU-N alone in fourth place in the Frontier standings, and with eight games left in the season, MSU-N still has all its goals in front of it.

“I feel like we’ve gotten better every week,” Huse said. “Even in the games we didn’t find a way to win. I felt like we still played well, maybe with the exception of the LC (State) game. But we’ve kept improving, kept growing as a team, and we want to continue to do that.”

The Lights have certainly shown the formula to their success. Play good defense and make outside shots. When Northern does those two things well, the Lights are awfully hard to beat. And even in a loss to Carroll College last Friday, the Lights held the Fighting Saints to 11 points below their season average. So, there’s no doubt Northern is a defensive and rebounding juggernaut, led by Ryan Reeves, who is third in the NAIA in blocked shots and fourth in the Frontier in rebounding.

Reeves also leads the Lights in scoring at 10 ppg, but scoring is also where the Lights need to see improvement, especially on the road. Senior David Straughter is the only other Light in double figures at 10 ppg, and while MSU-N is still shooting 40 percent form beyond the arc and 50 percent from the field, which are both among the best in the Frontier, the Lights need more scoring from its deep roster. Cameron Epps averages eight points per night and Justin Dunsmore averages seven, and after that, the Lights have seven players who average between five and six per game, and while balance is always good, the Lights could certainly use some more explosiveness, too.

And they’ll need that this weekend. Northern handled RMC (4-6, 11-11) last month in Havre. But the Bears are always tough at home. Senior Riley Bradshaw, a University of Montana transfer, is averaging 16 ppg, while Zach Hinton, Taylor Longo and Chad Kananan also average in double digits.

Explosive is also the best way to describe Western (8-2, 18-4). The No. 13 Bulldogs ran away from the Lights last month in Havre, paced by the combined 51 points from Dom Robinson and Shyke Smalls. The two standout guards lead the way for the Bulldogs, but Cooper Kidgell and Riley King, along with the inside play of Marcus Payne also gives Western a lot of offensive firepower.

And that’s what the Lights are up against this weekend — two teams that can explode offensively. So Northern will once again rely on its main strength, it’s defense, to help it succeed on a difficult start to a long road trip.

After this weekend’s trip, the Lights still travel to LC State, Montana Tech, UGF and Carroll, before returning home to close out the regular season against RMC and Western Feb. 24-25.

Tonight’s game between Northern and Rocky tips at 7:30 in Billings. Saturday’s game between the Lights and Bulldogs also tips at 7:30 p.m.

 

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