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Men's college basketball: Big second half lifts Bluejays

CALEB NELSON/DAILY GLOBE Bluejay basketball players Derek Buysse (22) and Ja’Pree Murry trap Riverland guard Guillermo DeDiego in the backcourt during the first half of Wednesday night’s game in Worthington.

WORTHINGTON — Stringing together an impressive 19-2 run over a span of just over five minutes early in the second half Wednesday evening, the Minnesota West Bluejays changed a 41-41 tie into a 60-43 lead and maintained a near double-figure advantage the rest of the way as they claimed an 81-70 victory over Riverland in a Southern Division (of the Minnesota College Athletic Conference) men’s basketball game at the Health and Wellness Center on the MW campus.

The victory lifts the Bluejays (14-5 overall) to 5-1 in the division, while the Blue Devils (9-11) fall to 2-5.

After getting a superbly-balanced effort during that game-changing burst, West received several stellar minutes from sophomore guard Jordan Thomas (Sioux City, Iowa) during an ensuing surge which took the Bluejays from a 63-52 advantage with 7:21 to play to a 76-62 lead with 3:36 remaining.

Thomas, who finished the game with a team-high 19 points, scored 11 points and dished off an assist (after snagging a long offensive rebound) during that span, which included a pair of three-pointers and two strong drives.

“Jordan has that kind of ability,” praised MW head coach Justin Heckenlaible. “He can get on a roll and create plays, which you can’t coach.”

Thomas, in fact, scored 17 of his points in the second half and had all six of his rebounds after intermission.

The game did not start well for West, as the Blue Devils — who are headquartered in Austin — broke out to a 12-4 lead in the game’s first six minutes. A dunk on an alley-oop pass to 6-5 sophomore Andrew Lau (Glenville) was among Riverland’s early highlights.

Trailing 14-8, the Bluejays began climbing back on eight straight points, including a pair of treys, by 6-4 sophomore forward Cody Harris (Rapid City, S.D.), who scored 11 of his 16 points in the first half.

West took an 18-17 edge on an inside bucket by 6-5 freshman center Blake Fischer (Brooklyn Park) and the rest of the half was closely-contested with three more lead changes.

Several fine plays by 6-1 freshman guard Ja’Pree Murry (Papillion, Nebraska), along with another three-pointer by Harris highlighted the closing minutes for West, which took a 38-34 edge into the break.

After Riverland knotted the score at 41-all three minutes into the second half, the Jays took over as Thomas scored on a drive, passed ahead to 6-4 freshman forward Derek Buysse (Marshall) for a fast break layup and Harris — from deep in the left corner — canned his fourth trey of the game and MW had a 48-41 lead.

A free throw by Murry (10 points, team-high 10 rebounds) was followed by a crowd-pleasing dunk by Harris on a hard drive down the middle of the lane. Harris, however, was injured (knee) on the play — with 14:31 on the clock — and did not play the rest of the game.

Murry found 5-9 sophomore point guard Cyril Hodges (Omaha, Nebraska) with a fast break pass and with 13:58 remaining, the Bluejays were looking good, leading 53-41.

Thomas netted a pair of free throws, Murry scored on a putback (following a steal by Taylor Lupton) and Hodges converted on a three-point play, capping the 19-2 surge and with 10:59 showing — the score was 60-43.

“That was a strong run,” exclaimed Heckenlaible. “Our zone defense was working well, as we gave up just two points over a nearly five-minute span and were able to get some offense generated from our defense, which we needed.”

Following that burst — and the later one, sparked by Thomas — the Jays held off a late surge by the Blue Devils, who trimmed West’s lead from 14 down to seven (77-70) with 1:19 left.

The Bluejays scored the game’s last four points as Hodges made one free throw, Buysse sank a pair and Murry — after scooping up a loose ball — converted one shot from the line.

“Again, we protected our court and earned another win at home,” concluded Heckenlaible. “Our length on the inside of our zone and the way we move and communicate out there is helping us become a good defensive team.”

Buysse finished another fine all-around game with 15 points and seven rebounds, while Hodges dished off a team-leading five assists.

Jackson Seitzinger, a 6-1 sophomore guard from Yankton, S.D., had five rebounds, a pair of steals and a trio of assists for the Bluejays, who travel north Saturday to tangle with Minnesota State-Fergus Falls.

Riverland 34 70

M West 38 81

RIVERLAND (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) DeDiego 0-4-1-9, Lau 2-3-0-12, Oboyo 0-8-4-20, Cook 2-2-5-15, Kaiser 0-1-1-3, Hinrichs 0-5-1-11. Totals 5-22-11-70.

MINNESOTA WEST (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Hodges 0-3-2-8, Thomas 2-5-3-19, Murry 1-2-3-10, Seitzinger 0-0-5-5, Buysse 1-4-4-15, Fischer 0-3-0-6, Lupton 0-1-0-2, Harris 4-2-0-16. Totals 8-20-17-81.