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BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE Bluejay Jackson Seitzinger puts up a jump shot during Saturday's game in Worthington.

Mens college basketball: Jays close out two-point win

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Les Knutson 

DAILY GLOBE

WORTHINGTON — Stringing together a pair of 18-7 runs Saturday afternoon, the Minnesota West men’s basketball team opened up a 10-point lead on Mesabi Range and held off a late surge by the visiting Norse to earn a 74-72 home court victory, coming on the heels of a 16-point loss to Vermilion on Friday night.

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Saturday’s victory improved the Bluejays to 6-3 on the season as they prepare for a road trip to Northland (Thief River Falls) Friday and Itasca (Grand Rapids) Saturday.

Trailing by eight points, 35-27, with time about to expire in the first half, the Bluejays received a lift when sophomore guard Jackson Seitzinger (Yankton, S.D.) beat the horn with his fourth three-pointer of the game, slicing Mesabi Range’s lead to five.

Capitalizing on Seitzinger’s 24-foot momentum-booster, West came out of the break and quickly tied the contest at 37-all when freshman forward Derek Buysse scored inside off an assist from freshman forward Cody Harris (Rapid City, S.D.) who had netted West’s first five points of the half.

With the score tied for the third time, the contest became an evenly-played event for the next several possessions, being knotted again an 39-39 and 41-all.

A rebound basket by Seitzinger and a nifty left-side baseline drive by Buysse, capped an 18-7 Bluejays’ run, putting MW ahead by three, 45-42, with 15:20 remaining.

The Bluejays, who played some outstanding zone defense in the second half, only relinquished the lead once the remainder of the game.

That happened shortly after Harris picked up his fourth foul at the 13:05 mark.

Norse sophomore guard Jamal Branco (Hudson, Florida) scored on a dazzling drive, giving Mesabi a 50-49 edge.

West, however, quickly countered with another 18-7 run —- keyed by stellar plays on both ends of the court by sophomore forward Taylor Lupton (Sioux Falls, S.D) and freshman guard Brett Bennett (Rapid City) to claim a 67-57 advantage with 3:51 to play.

“We were able to get three or four defensive stops in a row,” declared MW head coach Justin Heckenlaible. “We had made adjustments at halftime and our guys really worked hard in our 2-3 zone defense to allow us to open things up.”

Playing in the middle of the zone, Lupton deflected several balls and drew a charge —- as the Norse only scored seven points over a nearly nine-minute stretch.

Meanwhile, Buysse (four points) Lupton (four points), Bennett (five points), Seitzinger and sophomore guard Cyril Hodges (Omaha, Nebraska) combined for 18 points during that same span, helping West earn its 10-point lead.

Seitzinger and Bennett drilled back-to-back three-pointers during the surge, increasing the edge from 55-54 to 61-54 and forcing a Mesabi timeout at the 7:27 mark.

Hodges, who passed for a team-leading four assists in the game, capped MW’s run with a jumper in the lane.

The Norse, who had led much of the first half, came storming back, beginning with a pair of free throws by 6-5 sophomore post player Bacarius Dinkins (Gainesville, Florida), who finished with 14 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.

With Lupton effectively patrolling the middle of West’s zone, the Bluejays still maintained a 68-61 advantage with 1:15 left.

But, 10 seconds later, Branco’s left wing three-pointer trimmed the lead to 68-64.

Five seconds later, Seitzinger swished a pair of free throws and West had a six-point edge.

Mesabi’s high-scoring freshman guard Devin Brown, from Chicago, drilled his fourth three-pointer (first of the second half) of the game and with 49 seconds on the clock, the Bluejays had a 70-67 lead.

Buysse sank a pair from line with 41 seconds to go, but Mesabi countered with a putback hoop by freshman forward Kenneth Delley (Austin, Texas), making the score 72-69 with 25 seconds showing.

A free throw by Hodges increased the lead to four, but another long shot by Branco —- falling down after getting an offensive rebound thrown back out to him —- sliced the lead to 73-72 with just eight seconds left.

Harris put down one-of-two from the line and a final three-point attempt by the Norse was flat, giving the Bluejays an exciting two-point victory.

“I was proud of how our guys responded today and played good basketball,” concluded Heckenlaible, who guided his team without three key players —- Larry Bell, Jordan Thomas and JaPree Murry —- who were suspended following their ejections from Friday’s game against Vermilion. Thomas left that game with 22 points.

Seitzinger, who was five-of-eight from behind the arc, finished with a game-high 22 points Saturday, while Buysse (17) and Harris (12) also finished with double figures.

Harris blocked a pair of shots, while Lupton finished with eight points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals. Blake Fisher, a freshman center from Brooklyn Park, claimed five rebounds, blocked a shot and had an assist as he helped the balanced Bluejays’ effort.

“We had key contributions from everybody and each guy played their role well,” praised Heckenlaible. “We were active and communicating on defense, which really helped. This was a big win against a very good team.”

Mesabi Range 35 72

Minnesota West 30 74

Mesabi Range (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Hellman 1-1-0-5, Delley 0-6-3-15, Branco 2-2-0-10, Stackpool 2-1-0-8, Brown 4-3-2-20, Dinkins 0-5-4-14. Totals 9-18-9-72.

Minnesota West (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Hodges 0-1-1-3, Seitzinger 5-2-3-22, Griggs-Washington 1-0-0-3, Buysse 1-4-6-17, Fischer 0-2-0-4, Lupton 0-4-0-8, Bennett 1-1-0-5, Harris 1-4-1-12. Totals 9-18-11-74.

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