After splitting a pair of games in Helena, the MSU Northern Lights men's basketball team finds themselves a half game out of first place in the Frontier Conference, trailing just Montana Tech, who is currently 9-2. Even though the Lights are 8-2, head coach Shawn Huse says they still have many improvements to make.
"Right now it's about getting sharper with everything," Huse said. "More attention to detail, knowing what guys are doing, but there's plenty more chances. Long way to go and a lot more to prove."
Huse has seen a lot of different teams in his 21 years at Northern, but says this year's team has the makings to be one of Northern's all time greats.
"I've had a lot of teams over the years, but this one ranks up there with them for sure. I think it does start with Jesse Keltner, who's an exceptionally tough defender in and around the paint, even on the perimeter. And it also starts with C.J.. Those are two guys that take a great deal of pride in that. They work extremely hard at that."
Defense has been a key for success for the Lights so far this year. It'll continue to spark their offense as they move further into conference play.
"Most coaches will tell you it all starts with your defense. And if you can have a good night on that end of the floor, then you can be in any game, Huse said."
The official NAIA stats website has MSU Northern as a top 25 team in multiple defensive categories. They're also tied for fourth in the country, averaging about five blocks a game. They also average about ten steals per game, creating havoc for opposing offenses. There's a healthy mix of fresh faces and returners for this year's Lights team. They have the potential to make some noise and make a deep run in the postseason. CJ Nelson is one of the returning seniors for the Lights and is going through a bittersweet year, with it being his last.
"It's kind of my second run at it getting an extra year but it's been great with these guys and I'm not ready to be done. Who wants to stop playing a game you love?"
Even though the team is mixed with new faces and returners from last year, Nelson says the team is playing as one and getting better each week as the season progresses.
"We're really together as a team, I'd say is my biggest takeaway, and that's what let us get the start that we have where everyone's very, very unselfish," Nelson said. "The stats say it. Those guys are going to come over and they're going to make a play. It's all working together. Everybody's bought in and leaving it all out there and we're putting in the work to reach our goals that we have set as a team."
The Lights are heading for warmer weather for their next game against Hope International University for their first game in this year's Cactus Classic in Chandler, Arizona. Tipoff is Saturday, August 17th, at Noon Mountain time. Five out of six Frontier Conference will be present, including Providence, who plays Arizona Christian University at 4 p.m. that afternoon.