HELENA — Two of the Frontier Conference’s best defenders will be on the court in the PE Center on Saturday.
Montana State-Northern center Ryan Reeves took home the title of the Frontier’s Defensive Player of the Year last season. The 6-foot-10 center from Alaska averaged two blocks per game and perhaps more importantly altered many shots around the rim.
Opponents were forced to adjust their shots when Reeves roamed near the rim, otherwise he’d swat balls away like a bear swatting away a pesky bee.
Lights’ coach Shawn Huse shifted through a variety of defenses last year, too, shifting from zones to man-to-man on certain offensive actions. Yet, the premise of most of the defenses remained the same: funnel shots toward Reeves.
This season, Reeves is blocking nearly four shots per game. And while he’s earned a reputation as a defender, the big fella is also leading the Lights in points scored and rebounding.
While the Lights surround him with pinpoint 3-point shooters, Reeves fills the paints and scores at a high clip.
He’ll be tasked with deterring a Saints’ offense that craves feeding the ball into all-American Ryan Imhoff and generating high-quality offense in the paint. Carroll prefers to get the ball down low, but can also shoot the ball well from the outside to keep defenses moving. Reeves will try to tone back some of the Saints’ efficiency on offense.
And on the other side, Carroll’s Ife Kalejaiye is one of the best perimeter defenders in the Frontier. Many inside Carroll felt the 6-2 guard should have won the top defensive award last season, as he checked the opposition’s best scorer each night and Carroll leveraged that into both the Frontier Conference regular season and postseason titles.
Kalejaiye takes pride on harassing other players. He looks forward to the challenge of defending talented, athletic scorers. And while he may not have gaudy defensive stats – though advanced metrics may be more favorable and enlightening – Kalejaiye is routinely called upon to make life difficult for opponents.
Perhaps most importantly, when the Saints’ defense plays an aggressive, determined way, it leads to more flow for their offense.
Saturday will likely see Kalejaiye doing his best to limit the ever-eager 3-point shooting of the Lights. Northern’s Adam Huse shoots 51 percent from deep, and he’s just one of three shooters who eclipse the 50-percent mark on the team.
If Carroll wants to win, it will be up to the Kalejaiye and the perimeter defense to come up big.
Northern hit just 12 of 30 three pointers in the team’s first matchup. Expect the Lights to let them fly once again on Saturday.
And with all due respect to some of the other standout defenders in the Frontier, there may be no better showcase of two distinct styles of defense than when Carroll and Northern square off on Saturday night.
Northern, too, will be looking for another notch in their belt against the upper echelon of the Frontier. Carroll, conversely, will be looking to avoid another pitfall against a middling team in the conference.
Defense will be at the forefront.