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Skylights cage the defending champs

Northern opens Frontier Conference play with a huge win over Montana Western

 

December 6, 2019

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Montana State University-Northern's Tiara Gilham, right, shoots over a Montana Western defender during Thursday night's game in the Armory Gymnasium. The Skylights, behind a huge performance from Gilham, beat the defending national champion Bulldogs, 58-51. For more photos, go to www.havredailynews.com.

The last two seasons, the Montana State University-Northern Skylights have experienced a lot of heartache during Frontier Conference play.

And yet, they weren't about to let the 2019-2020 Frontier season start the same way.

Thursday night in the Armory Gymnasium, the No. 14 Skylights opened the new Frontier slate with a 58-51 win over defending NAIA and Frontier champion Montana Western. And while it's just one win, it was obvious, the victory meant a lot.

"It's exciting, it's a really nice win for us," junior Tiara Gilham said after scoring a game-high 18 points. "Any win in conference is big, but this one feels really good. We played really well. We played together. It was a really good team win."

Gilham was a catalyst for Northern, especially in the third quarter. Leading 31-25 at halftime, the Skylights looked to pull away from the Bulldogs, and Gilham did all she could to assist.

She scored on back-to-back buckets in the paint, added an old-fashioned three-point play and sparked a 12-1 Northern run. She would later bury a 3-pointer, while Peyton Kehr finished off the quarter with a deuce, helping the Skylights take a 47-37 lead into the final stanza.

"I just felt like I needed to step up and play that role (offensively)," Gilham said of her night on of the offensive end. "Especially with Kenzie (Gunter) going out of the game, I knew someone needed to step up for us, and it was my lucky night. The shots were falling for me."

"T is a very skilled offensive player," MSU-N head coach Chris Mouat said. "And she had some huge moments for us offensively tonight. But I'm equally as proud of her for her rebounding on the other end tonight. We needed that from her, and she came up with some huge boards for us. But yes, she had a huge game, and I'm really proud of her."

As good as the stretch by Gilham and the Skylights was, they knew the Dawgs wouldn't go away. Despite losing a ton of firepower from the 2019 national championship team, Western is by no means devoid of talent, and it showed as the Dawgs ripped off a 7-2 run, including a layup from former Box Elder Bear Lilly Gopher. And while a Hailey Nicholson bucket, put the Skylights up four with under four to play, it wasn't until Allix Goldhahn buried a monster trey out of a timeout that the Skylights wrestled back control of the game and iced it for good with free throws down the stretch.

"Really proud of our kids for being able to close it out down the stretch," Mouat said. "They (Bulldogs) were really coming after us, with their full-court pressure, and they were scoring on the other end. So Allix' three was huge, Hailey got a big board, and our kids just stepped up and made some really big plays and shots down the stretch of the game and we needed them all."

No doubt, Northern hit big shots and also played its signature defense, holding Western to just 37 percent shooting and a horrid 2-for-18 performance from distance.

On the other side, the Skylights also used a strong first half to build momentum. MSU-N got first-quarter threes from McKenzie Gunter, who would leave the game with an injury, and Kehr to take a 21-17 edge after the first period. Then Gilham got hot early in the second stanza, and Kehr scored on consecutive possessions to send the Skylights into the break with a six-point lead.

And while Gilham was huge with her 18-point, eight-rebound outing, Northern got big contributions from all over the lineup. Kehr finished with 14 points, while Nicholson added eight points and seven boards, and Goldhahn scored seven. The Skylights also shot 46 percent from the floor, out-rebounded the Dawgs 32-22, and held Western to almost 30 points below its season average.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Allix Goldhahn shoots during Thursday night's game in the Armory.

"It was a great team win," Mouat said. "And our defense was really good again tonight. It's been our go-to this season. But I also can't say enough about the way Morgan Mason and Reilly Walsh stepped up. With McKenzie going out of the game that early, we needed them to step up, and we don't win this game without those two tonight."

Everyone did step up for the Skylights. Now, Northern (1-0, 8-0) will try to start the Frontier season with back-to-back home wins when the Skylights host No. 25 Rocky Mountain College Saturday night at 6 p.m. in the Armory Gymnasium. But MSU-N is also going to enjoy Thursday night's big win over the defending national champs, too.

"It's a great one to get at home," Mouat said. "Western is a very good basketball team. Coach Wooley has done an amazing job with that program. Look at everything they lost from last year, and look at how they've reloaded. They're very, very good, very well-coached, very tough. So for us to get this one tonight, it says alot about our kids, and I'm very proud of them.

 

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