An overtime thriller ended at Kelvin Sampson Court ended in joy for MSU-Northern, but heartbreak for Montana Tech.
The Northern Lights defeated the Orediggers 75-73, delivering Montana Tech a fifth-straight loss while lifting Northern to a 14-4 on the year. The Northern Lights were led by the pair of senior Hailey Nicholson and junior McKenzie Gunter, who put up 24 and 23 points respectively.
Montana Tech head coach Carly Sanon said the loss was a tough one to take, especially after the narrow 74-71 defeat to Providence on Thursday.
"I felt we came out really aggressive," Sanon said. "We got up by as many as 13 points and I felt like we played really, really well. Coming down the stretch, we missed back-to-back threes with about four minutes to play and then I felt that we got a little bit tight late."
It makes sense that Sanon was pleased with the start, as the Orediggers’ impressive shooting from junior Mollie Peoples and senior Kaylee Zard saw Tech keep pace with the team currently sitting second in the Frontier Conference.
Tech ended the first quarter down 19-18, was able to outscore the Northern Lights 17-9 to ensure an advantage heading into the back half of the contest.
Nicholson's impressive night started early, knocking down early free throw attempts while also making shots from the field. MSU-Northern head coach Chris Mouat complimented Nicholson's early display, but also explained that he expects his team to get better throughout a contest, rather than burn out.
"[Nicholson] was really good the whole night offensively," Mouat said. "That was her best offensive game as a college player, but she brings it every night for us, blocking shots, getting rebounds. She's a great defender, and she also shot really well on the offensive end, which was cool to see."
Mouat's point was backed by the fact that the Northern Lights never scored more than the 19 points achieved in the first quarter, as MSU-Northern followed up a strong start with just 22 points in the next two quarters.
However, Mouat's squad put together a much-needed late run, inching back from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter. This culminated in guard Allix Goldhahn's three-point play, knocking down a free-throw after making a basket while fouled. Goldhahn's impressive move brought the game to 60-59 with just under 40 seconds to play.
While Peoples and Zard knocked down crucial free throws late to try and stave off the Northern Lights, Northern junior McKenzie Gunter made an "and one" play of her own, this time from with just under three seconds to play to send the game into overtime.
Both squads were running low on energy as overtime progressed, but the Northern Lights scored two early baskets, forcing Montana Tech to play catch-up, which the Orediggers were unable to do successfully, despite having a final shot down 75-73.
Mouat related to the difficulty of winning in the Frontier Conference, and also explained that the Northern Lights aren't far from when they suffered similar fates in their previous two games.
"We've come off back-to-back games where we lost on the last possession," Mouat said. "I know how it is, it's hard. This league is really, really good and Tech played extremely well tonight. We didn't. They were better for the better part of the game, we just had enough in the tank in the end to make a run."
Besides Nicholson's 24 and Gunter's 23, juniors Sydney Hovde and Peyton Kehr added 10 and nine for the Northern Lights.
Tech had four players reach double-digit scoring, as Peoples' 19 was followed by Zard's 16, while freshman Tavia Rooney contributed 14 points and 13 rebounds. Junior Mesa Williams' 10 points rounded out the top scorers for the Orediggers.
"Northern fought back and fought back," Sanon said. "And ended up getting us in OT. We're doing some great things execution-wise, we got the late three, ran the play perfectly... We had a look at the end. We just have to clean up some things."
Montana Tech returns to the HPER facility to host Rocky Mountain on Thursday Jan. 23. MSU-Northern returns to Havre to host Carroll College on Wednesday, Jan. 22.