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MW MENS BASKETBALL: Bluejays hand top-seeded Vermilion first-round loss

COON RAPIDS --Despite sneaking into the playoffs with a win in their final regular season game last Sunday, the Minnesota West Bluejays took down the Northern Division No. 1-seed Vermilion Ironmen 87-81 in the first round of the NJCAA Men's Basketball Region 13 Tournament Friday.

"The potential has been there for us all year long, but we just haven't been able to put it all together in some games this year," MW coach Justin Heckenlaible said. "These last two games though we have put a full game together and played with confidence throughout the whole game."

Orie Brown led the way for Minnesota West with 28 points and five rebounds in the game. Brown knocked down four of the Bluejays eight total 3-pointers on the night while hitting clutch shots throughout the game.

"Orie shot well for us tonight just like he did last weekend," Heckenlaible said. "We were able to respond to every run Vermilion tried to make with a big shot."

The Bluejays never trailed in the game and used a strong start to build a 40-29 lead heading into the locker room at halftime. But the Ironmen made a strong comeback in the second half to keep things close down the stretch.

"They outrebounded us in the game by 20," Heckenlaible said, "but we were able to force 19 turnovers while only turning the ball over eight times ourselves. That was key for us and helped us keep their top scorers in check."

The Bluejays went 7-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final minutes of the game to seal the win and move on to the semifinals today.

"We were making shots at critical times tonight and that was huge," Heckenlaible said. "In games like these you have to be able to make plays throughout the game. Teams like this won't just beat themselves."

Including Brown, Minnesota West had five players in double-figures in the game, with Luke Roddy being second on the score sheet with 14 points. Mitch Hopkins picked up 13 points, while Tyler Aquallo had 12 points and five rebounds. Cody Harris rounded out the double-digit scorers for the Bluejays with 11 points.

The Ironmen were led by Emeche Wells, who picked up 22 points in the game. Shawn Bear chipped in 17 points for Vermilion to go along with 15 points from Anthony Burns.

Minnesota West faces Southern Division rival Minnesota State-Fergus Falls today at 2 p.m. in Coon Rapids, with the winner advancing to the tournament championship on Sunday.

MW 40 47 -- 87

Vermilion 29 52 -- 81