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Bluejay rally falls short, 98-96

WORTHINGTON -- Trailing by 28 points in the second half, the Minnesota West Bluejays appeared to be heading to a blowout defeat.

However, behind Eddie Marrs, the Minnesota West men went on a 20-2 run to cut the deficit to just 10 points.

But with solid free-throw shooting in the last six minutes, MSCTC-Fergus Falls held on for a 98-96 MCCC Southern Division victory.

"We just played with a lot more energy in the second half," Minnesota West head coach Justin Heckenlaible said. "I really don't know what it was in the first half, it was just weird."

Trailing 43-25 at the halftime break, the Bluejays (1-4, 5-12) scored 71 points in the second half in the two-point defeat.

"The game against Riverland was probably the best game that we've played, but this was the best half that we've played," Marrs said of the second half. "We scored 71 points in about 15 minutes."

For MW, Marrs was a big reason for the comeback.

The sophomore guard scored 41 points -- including 35 in the second half -- to lead the charge.

"He played really well on Saturday, too, and he has the capability of doing that," Heckenlaible said. "He carried us at times, but we still have some guys that are standing around too much and not cutting to the basket. Teams are going to put two or three guys on him."

During the 20-2 run that propelled the Bluejays back into the game, Marrs scored 16 of the team's 20 points -- and had a stretch of 20 of MW's 24 points.

"This half, honestly, I don't know, it seemed like I was shooting into two rims instead of just one," Marrs said. "I had to reach deep down inside. We got off to a rough start in conference, and this is my last year. Coach told the team to leave all of it on the court, and a lot of people won't get a chance to play basketball anymore, and I'm taking advantage of it. When the shots are falling, they just fall."

The Blujays struggled to find an offensive rhythm against the Spartans (4-1, 11-5) in the first half.

Behind a trey from Fergus Falls' Scott Stebe (26 points), the Spartans had a 20-4 lead early in the game.

Another trey from Stebe pushed the lead to 20 three minutes later, but the Bluejays were able to cut the lead to 18 at the break, 43-25.

"We decided at halftime that we were going to continue our full-court trap," Heckenlaible said. "They were either going to blow us out by 40 or 50, or we were going to get back into it. Obviously, we took the other avenue."

The Spartans picked up in the second half right where they left off and used a 10-0 run to increase the lead to 28.

"I thought we played great for 30 minutes," Fergus Falls head coach Jason Retzlaff said. "We played real well and handled their pressure well for 30 minutes. But then for 10 or 12 minutes, they were real aggressive and made some great plays. Credit goes to them for not giving up when they could have given up, and they are a very good team."

Marrs started the run for West with a 3-point play, and after a basket from Devon Harrell (11 points), Marrs hit a trey and connected on three free throws to cut the lead to 64-46.

"If we would have played like that for 40 minutes, I think the outcome would have been a lot different," Marrs said.

A basket from FF ended an 11-0 run, but Marrs made another 3-point play, and with a pair of free throws from Chris Aggen (six points), Marrs connected on back-to-back jump shots to cut the lead to just 10 points.

"We started off pretty bad," Marrs said. "It seemed like we weren't really into the game. In the second half, we discussed it in the locker room, and we actually had some heart in the second half."

However, FF answered with an 8-2 run, and with a basket from Bill Bauman (25 points), the Spartans pushed the lead back to 16.

But the Bluejays would not go quietly and continued to chip away at the lead.

Harrell, Marrs and Gordy Sanford (16 points) each hit a trey in the final two minutes, giving the Bluejays a chance.

Fergus Falls was able to make 12 of its last 16 free throws, and 32-of-41 for the game, to seal the victory.

"We have guards that are good shooters and have confidence to step up and knock them down," Retzlaff said. "It ended up being a key, because we couldn't stop them on the other end."

Marrs made a 3-pointer before the final buzzer, but the Spartans came away with a 98-96 victory.

"In the last five or six minutes, I thought we executed our press to a T," Heckenlaible said. "We had a bunch of steals, and we fouled at correct times. They made quite a few free throws in a row, and credit to them. If they could have missed one or two in there, maybe we could have scored and we had a chance."

The Bluejays shot 59 percent from the field in the second half and used a high-pressure defense to force 21 turnovers in the game, including key turnovers late in the contest.

Minnesota West will be off for a week before returning home Wednesday when the Bluejays host Ridgewater in another MCCC Southern Division contest.

Fergus Falls 43 55 -- 98

Minnesota West 25 71 -- 96

Fergus Falls (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Stebe 4-4-6-26, Stevens 1-2-2-9, Bauman 0-11-3-25, Herrick 1-0-11-14, Cariveau 0-1-0-2, Barrett 0-2-2-8, Frelix 0-2-2-6, Lee 0-2-4-8. Totals 6-24-32-98.

MW (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Sanford 3-2-3-16, Lee 0-3-2-8, Schaefer 2-0-0-6, Delaney 0-2-0-4, Marrs 3-12-8-41, Harrell 1-2-4-11, Aggen 0-2-2-6, Clark 0-1-0-2, Eggleston 0-1-0-2. Totals 9-23-19-96.