MEN'S BASKETBALL: Bluejays use quick start to top Spartans
WORTHINGTON -- Playing well at both ends of the floor right out of the gate Saturday night, the Minnesota West Bluejays claimed an early 14-0 lead and held off several rallying efforts from the Minnesota State-Fergus Falls Spartans to capture a key 90-79 victory in a Minnesota College Athletic Conference Southern Division men's basketball game at Worthington High School.
The sharp-shooting Tyler Aquallo knocked down seven 3-pointers and scored 25 points to lead Minnesota West, while Orie Brown (15 points), Mitch Hopkins (13 points), Cody Harris (11 points) and Jackson Seitzinger (10 points) also scored in double figures for a well-balanced Bluejays' attack.
Four other players -- Luke Roddy, Tyson Langdeau, Mitch Olson and Taylor Lupton -- scored four points apiece, as the Bluejays (11-9, 4-4) utilized their depth well and executed their game plan nicely to earn a win over the second-place Spartans (14-6, 5-2).
"We came out ready to play and we executed," Minnesota West head coach Justin Heckenlaible said after the game. "Our entries into our offensive sets were good and we were able to not only get good looks, but finish them as well. Our defensive effort was very good for the most part, and we battled hard on the boards -- this is a huge win for us."
Minnesota West built a lead as large at 19 points (30-11) before Fergus Falls trimmed the margin to 10 (45-35) by halftime. The Spartans were within striking distance throughout the entire second half -- down by either five or six points several times -- but the Bluejays were solid at the free-throw line (17-for-21 overall) and closed out an 11-point win.
We got defensive stops and made some free throws down the stretch," Heckenlaible said. "Fergus Falls is a tough team to defend and they have a lot of guys who can really shoot the ball well. They made some runs, but I thought that we did a nice job of answering their runs with quality plays of our own."
The Bluejays certainly started out with a number of quality plays on their way to a quick 14-0 lead. Hopkins scored on a pair of strong drives to the basket and hit a mid-range shot, while Seitzinger buried a 3-pointer from the left corner in the first 2 minutes, 10 seconds of the first half.
Brown then scored on an inside move, and Olson provided a putback basket to complement multiple defensive stops by Minnesota West -- prompting a Fergus Falls timeout at the 16-minute mark.
"We took care of the ball and rebounded well, which helped us take that early lead," Heckenlaible said. "We didn't give Fergus Falls too many second or third shots, plus we hustled to create a few extra opportunities of our own."
The Spartans finally got on the board at the 15:15 mark when Gavin Dettwiler (seven points) netted a 3-pointer. Bee Pee Pajibo (nine points) followed with a 3-point play to make it 14-6.
Aquallo and Roddy countered with long-distance shots, and the Bluejays rolled to a 30-11 advantage by staying aggressive. Hopkins, Brown and Seitzinger each scored by attacking the basket, helping extend the gap to 19 with 9:23 on the clock.
Chuckie Smith, who poured in a game-high 27 points for Fergus Falls, started to heat up late in the half and helped the Spartans slowly get back into contention. He nailed about a 30-footer from the right wing -- one of 13 3-pointers that Fergus Falls connected on -- to highlight his scoring abilities.
Aquallo was also on fire from the perimeter -- meshing two more 3-pointers in the half -- before he passed to Lupton for a basket down low. Harris had a nifty reverse layup, and Langdeau drilled a 15-footer to help Minnesota West stay in control to finish the half.
Aquallo hit three more 3-pointers to start the second half, but Fergus Falls was within six (59-53) after Smith scored nine straight points for the Spartans. Smith went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line, sliced through the lane for a hoop and dialed in another very long shot from behind the 3-point arc.
The margin stayed between six and 10 points for the next several minutes before Jason Nelson (five points) hit a 3-pointer to help bring Fergus Falls within five (67-62) at the 9:57 mark. Luke Halbakken (six points), Shane Bosek (12 points) and Boomer Blossom (13 points) also helped the Spartans' cause.
The Spartans were within five (82-77 and 84-79) a few more times later, but that's as close as they got. The Bluejays always had an answer and closed out the game by sinking 7 of 10 free throws in the final 3:17.
Minnesota West returns to action Wednesday night, hosting Western Tech at WHS. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.
MINNESOTA WEST 90, FERGUS FALLS 79
FERGUS FALLS (14-6, 5-2): Dettwiler 3 0-0 7, Blossom 5 0-0 13, Bosek 4 2-4 12, Smith 9 4-4 27, Halbakken 1 3-4 6, Pajibo 2 5-7 9, Nelson 2 0-0 5. Totals: 26 14-19 79.
MINNESOTA WEST (11-9, 4-4): Roddy 1 1-2 4, Langdeau 2 0-0 4, Seitzinger 3 2-3 10, Olson 2 0-0 4, Brown 6 2-2 15, Aquallo 8 2-4 25, Hopkins 5 3-3 13, Lupton 1 2-2 4, Harris 3 5-5 11. Totals: 31 17-21 90.
Fergus Falls 35 44 - 79
Minnesota West 45 45 - 90
3-Point Goals: Fergus Falls 13 (Smith 5, Blossom 3, Bosek 2, Dettwiler, Halbakken, Nelson); Minnesota West 11 (Aquallo 7, Seitzinger 2, Roddy, Brown). Rebounds: 42 (Bosek 7, Pajibo 6); Minnesota West 40 (Hopkins 9, Aquallo 7). Assists: Fergus Falls 8 (Dettwiler 3, Smith 3); Minnesota West 12 (Roddy 4, Aquallo 3). Turnovers: Fergus Falls 15, Minnesota West 11.