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College basketball: Bluejay men prevail

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Minnesota West Bluejay Cody Harris (35) drives to the basket for a shot Wednesday against Minnesota State-Fergus Falls.

Les Knutson

Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON —In a closely-contested Southern Division opening game, the Minnesota West Community and Technical College Bluejays withstood a 31-19 second-half run by the visiting Minnesota State-Fergus Falls Spartans Wednesday night and prevailed with a scrappy 86-83 victory.

The hard-fought win improves the West men to a solid 10-4 on the season, while putting the Bluejays in a quick first-placed tie in the division with a 1-0 mark.

The Spartans (8-6, 0-1) rallied from a 44-38 halftime deficit to claim a 69-63 lead with 10 minutes and 40 seconds remaining in the game.

West effectively responded with an 8-0 surge of its own, reclaiming the edge at 71-69 with 9:17 to play.

From there, the lead switched hands numerous times —and was tied on five occasions —before the Bluejays scored the final five points and pulled out the win.

“It’s important to defend your own court and win at home,” stressed a satisfied MW head coach Justin Heckenlaible after the contest. “We shared the basketball well and had double-figure scoring from five guys, along with nine points from Cyrell (Hodges, MW’s point guard).”

Jackson Seitzinger, a 6-1 sophomore guard from Yankton, S.D., finished with a team-leading 18 points —including the isolated right-side drive, which put the Bluejays ahead 84-83 with 33.6 seconds left.

Trailing by a point with 41.7 seconds on the clock, Heckenlaible called a timeout and set up the play.

Seitzinger dribbled right and appeared to be ready to hand the ball off to Jordan Thomas on the weave. But, instead, Seitzinger accelerated to the basket and scored, putting West in the lead.

Defending well, the Bluejays held the Spartans on the next possession and when Blake Fischer —a 6-5 freshman center from Brooklyn Park —snagged his 13th rebound of the game and was fouled, things were looking good for the home team.

Fischer, who finished with a nifty double-double (also scoring 13 timely poins), sank a pair of free throws with 6.9 seconds showing, capping the game’s scoring.

West fouled quickly on the ensuing possession and the Spartans missed the first free throw and had the second one —a make —discounted due to a lane violation.

Fischer, who had 10 rebounds in the first half, drew praise for his efforts from Heckenlaible.

“Blake has been scoring some, but not rebounding as much in recent games,” the coach said. “Tonight, he really rebounded. This was one of his best games.”

Nine of Fischer’s rebounds were on the offensive glass, including seven prior to intermission.

In addition to Seitzinger and Fischer, the Bluejays also received double-digit scoring from Cody Harris (14), Derek Buysse (14) and Thomas ( 13), while Hodges had four assists to go along with his nine points.

One of Hodges’ assists was to Buysse for a three-pointer, which tied the score at 69-all, after Buyesse —a 6-4 freshman forward from Marshall —had powered down a key defensive rebound seconds earlier.

Harris, 6-4 sophomore forward from Rapid City, S.D., later sank a pair of free throws, giving West its 71-69 edge.

After the Spartans knotted the score at 71-all, Harris scored on an impressive slam dunk as the Jays continued to step up their aggressiveness.

“We had a bit of a rebounding lull when we were getting outscored,” Heckenlaible said. “But, we got on the boards well down the stretch, which really helped. Plus, we hit some big shots at big times.”

Buysse helped West on the boards with 12 rebounds and Harris —who scored seven of West’s first 13 points —contributed eight rebounds, three assists and two steals in a fine all-around performance.

Shooting 42 percent (16-of-38) from the field in the first half, the Bluejays held several seven-point leads before the break, as Seitzinger (11), Buysse (nine), Fischer (seven), Harris (seven), Thomas (six) and Hodges (four) all scored.

Two statistics which Heckenlaible liked were the Bluejays overall rebounding advantage and the Spartans’ poor shooting percengtage from behind the arc.

“They were just four-of-26 on three-point shot attempts, so we defended the perimeter well with our zone defense,” Heckenlaible said. “We had 52 rebounds, compared to 38 for them —which is really a good statistic.”

Fergus Falls’ JJ Morris was the only Spartan to nail a three-pointer (four-of-13) and was a perfect seven-of-seven at the line to finish with a game-high 25 points.

The Bluejays will be back in action on the home court Saturday at 3 p.m. when they tangle with Western Wisconsin Tech (of LaCrosse) in the team’s second divisional game of the season.

Fergus Falls 38 83

Minnesota West 44 86

FERGUS FALLS (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Dettwiler 0-1-2-4, Johnson 0-6-4-16, Morris 4-3-7-25, Ford 0-7-4-18, Cofield 0-1-2-4, Halbakken 0-2-1-5, Gaines 0-3-5-11. Totals 4-23-25-83.

BLUEJAYS (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Hodges 0-3-3-9, Thomas 1-1-8-13, Murry 0-1-1-3, Seitzinger 0-6-6-18, Buysse 1-4-3-14, Fischer 0-5-3-13, Lupton 0-1-0-2, Harris 1-4-3-14. Totals 3-25-27-86.