HELENA — The Montana State-Northern Lights men's basketball team entered the PE Center with a reputation as being a three-and-D kind of team.
They exited battered and bruised.
No. 14-ranked Carroll College, led by 25 points from Ryan Imhoff, made a bevy of energized highlight plays and rolled to a 78-43 Frontier Conference victory over Montana State-Northern on Saturday night before a crowd of 1,412.
“Montana Northern is very difficult to deal with,” Saints coach Carson Cunningham said. “They have so many 3-point shooters, so many of them shooting over 40 percent from 3. We had to work extremely hard to limit their 3s. Fortunately we were able to do that tonight.”
Carroll (20-4, 8-4) started to drift away from Northern in the first half behind a staggering defense. The Saints flew around and made plays, limiting the Lights’ best weapon, its 3-point attack.
The Lights (16-9, 6-6) shot just 2 of 9 from deep in the first half, and could only look on as the Saints held a 35-23 lead going into halftime.
Then, the Saints seemingly took turns creating highlight reels.
The Lights’ leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker Ryan Reeves became a focal point in the second half – for the wrong reasons. Reeves did have a strong game with 12 points, four rebounds and three blocked shots, including one massive alley-oop finish that quieted the crowd, but in the second half, the Saints went after him.
Carroll’s 6-foot-6 do-everything leader Imhoff bettered the 6-10 defender, at least on Saturday. Imhoff beat Reeves on the interior time and time again, memorably drawing an and-1 foul against Reeves. Imhoff went left and finished through contact.
And Cunningham went down the bench high-fiving every bystander.
“Reeves is such a great player, fantastic on both ends,” Cunningham said. “I was happy to see the fire and the passion the guys played with. Our goal is to keep that going and just to keep growing as a team without getting too high or low.”
It was almost as if the Saints were out to abuse the giant. Ife Kalejaiye, after driving into a congested lane, laid off a pass to Wyman. Wyman took a step, gathered, and saw some space and a 6-foot-10 challenger.
Wyman went up with two hands. Reeves tried to stuff it. Wyman won. The biggest two points of the night were his, and he drew a foul on Reeves.
The best shot blocker in the conference took a lump. Wyman missed the ensuing free throw, but the damage had been done. The Saints were fully in control.
It became the kind of game where every Saint had a highlight.
Alex Santos’ no-look passes left the student section screaming. Pat Colberg, 30 seconds after stepping onto the court, drilled a 3.
Freshman Brad King nearly had his own highlight down on the block. Instead, Kyle Nickol flew in for a putback layup.
And so the game went for the Saints.
Cunningham noted Father Marc Lenneman, who gives the Saints’ a pregame prayer before every game, spoke about the Saints’ playing with a fire.
“Our guys just played with great unity, great competitive fire,” Cunningham said. “Father Marc talks to use about that in the locker room before the pregame prayer pretty much every time. It was great to see the guys flying around, talking, helping each other. When you play harmonious, it’s just really fun to be a part of. The guys have worked extremely hard. I hope the fans see that and appreciate how hard they’ve worked to play defense like that.”
On the other side of it, Shawn Huse tried to make sense of his Lights, who entered the PE Center after earning an 80-71 win in Billings against Rocky Mountain College just two nights earlier. His Lights finished shooting 34 percent from the field and 25 percent from the 3-point line, far cries from their season averages.
“First of all you have to credit Carroll for playing good defense and knocking down their shots,” Huse said. “At the same time, I don’t think we played the best we could tonight. It’s hard to find your energy. We coaches always talk about our defense feeding our offense. At some point you have to see the ball go in to get some energy.”
Imhoff finished with 25 points on 10 of 20 shooting and added in seven rebounds and three assists.
Lorel Johnson bounced back from a tough night and had 13 points, three assists, two rebounds and a steal. He knocked down 3 of 4 shots from deep.
Kalejaiye also broke double figures with 10 points, adding in three assists, three steals and two rebounds.
Reeves was the only Lights player to break double figures.
STATS THAT STAND OUT
Carroll had 16 assists and only six turnovers.
The Saints shot 54 percent from the field, 53 percent from deep and 86 percent from the foul line. The Lights went 34, 25 and 63 percent from each of those respective areas.