Defense fuels successful season for the Lights
Last updated 3/16/2023 at 11:01am
It was a solid year for the Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team this past winter. Despite a 7-8 record in the Frontier Conference, the Lights finished the year with an overall record of 19-11. Looking back on the season, MSU-N head coach Shawn Huse was proud of his team's efforts.
"I thought we had a wonderful season and when you look back on it and the dust has settled, we posted some remarkable numbers on defense," Huse said. "When you look at this year's team, it was as good of a defensive team as we've ever had."
The Lights started the season strong by going 6-0 in non-conference games. But they faced a bit more adversity once they got to conference play. In the middle of January, the Lights lost three games in a row. The Lights rebounded at the end of the month with a five-game winning streak. But they ended the regular season on a three-game losing streak.
The Lights opened the postseason with the Frontier Conference Tournament late in February. The Lights started the tournament strong with an 82-62 win over Montana Western. But in a game that came down to the wire, the Lights suffered a 72-70 loss to the University of Providence.
With that loss to the Argonauts, the Lights' season came to an end. Over the course of the year, the Lights lost several tight games to tough teams in the Frontier Conference. Compared to the resumes of teams that did get at-large bids to the NAIA Tournament, Huse believed his team should have seen their season continue.
"At the end of the day, we firmly believe we deserved to be there," Huse said. "We firmly believed that we would have gone there and won some games so that was a disappointment."
Despite the disappointing end to the year, the Lights have plenty to be proud of this season. Senior forward Jesse Keltner earned First Team All-Conference honors for his performance this season. He averaged 13.7 points and 7.3 rebounds a game this season. Keltner also won Frontier Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
Senior guard CJ Nelson earned Second Team All-Conference honors. He averaged 10.6 points a game on 40.1 percent shooting from the field and 33.7 percent shooting from the 3-point line. He also averaged 4.8 rebounds a game for the Lights.
Freshman guard Dae'Kwon Watson had a strong start to his career earning honorable mention All-Conference honors. He averaged 9.5 points a game on 45.7 percent shooting from the field and 37.7 percent shooting from deep. He was also named the Freshman of the Year and Sixth-Man of the Year.
Both Keltner and Nelson were named to the All-Defensive Team for this season. Junior guard Terry Holmes Jr. was named to the Champions of Character team this season. Many other Lights had strong seasons this past winter. After graduating a pair of seniors from last season, Huse was proud of his team for replacing their production this season.
"We never really lost a beat. We found a way between our returners and our new guys to be every bit as good if not better than the year before," Huse said. "I just felt like, overall as a team, we almost unturned it up a notch."
With a solid season behind them, the Lights will look to improve on that heading into next season. They will lose several seniors, but they feel confident they can continue their trajectory to compete in the Frontier Conference.
"We're going to miss the heck out of our seniors but I'm really excited about the returners and the new guys and we're very excited about the recruits that we have on the line," Huse said. "We feel like we can do something special moving forward."