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College basketball: Finding answers in critical stretches, Bluejay men prevail

BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE Bluejay freshman Brett Bennett (33) drives in for a layup during Saturday’s mens basketball game in Worthington. 2 / 2

WORTHINGTON — Even after fighting off a slightly sluggish start in their shot selection, the Minnesota West Bluejays made quick work of distancing themselves from Ridgewater College in their mens basketball contest Saturday afternoon at the Center for Health and Wellness in Worthington.

Minnesota West seemingly rolled in all aspects of the game through much of the tilt’s final 26 minutes and ousted the Warriors, 80-67.

There was trouble starting for the Jays and trouble finishing, but as they say, a win is a win. The outing completed a four-game stretch the team had endured over the previous seven days.

“It’s been a long week with three road games, on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday,” Bluejays head coach Justin Heckenlaible said. “Overall I was very happy with the guys’ efforts. To go 2-2 with three really tough road games, I was very, very proud of their efforts today.”

The Bluejays seized an upper hand off the opening tip but saw Warriors freshman Mowlid Mohamud cut a seven-point lead to four points on a three-pointer 1:24 into the game.

Playing even with their opponents through the contest’s opening 14 minutes, never leading by more than 10 points — when Jays freshman Blake Fischer laid in a put-back off an offensive board — the Jays made their move at that point.

Leading 24-21 with just over six minutes to go in the first half, West closed the stanza on a 24-7 run that was fueled by a demoralizing defensive effort and several nifty buckets. Shots from sophomore Cyrell Hodges, freshman guard Brett Bennett and others helped the Jays piece together an 11-point lead that eventually swelled to 20 by the halftime buzzer.

“That was huge. We let up on the defensive end in the second half, so it was nice to have that lead going into halftime,” Bennett said. “We had been taking some not-so-good shots and weren’t sharing the ball well. We started sharing the ball better, got some good shots, and they went in.”

Bennett had an all-around balanced night for his team scoring 14 points, picking out six rebounds, a steal and handing out five assists. Derek Buysse, a freshman forward from Marshall, led all scorers with 19 points while Fischer (10 points, two blocked shots) and Hodges (13 points) logged double-digit scoring. Jackson Seitzinger led the team with seven boards and Hodges had four takeaways.

The Bluejays led by their biggest margin at 48-25 shortly after halftime, but the Warriors refused to rest. Even as West relentlessly pursued ball-handlers defensively and went after rebounds and loose balls, Ridgewater saw a few of its shots go down and mounted a 7-0 run at one point, cutting the game to an 11-point spread with 9:41 to go.

Whether it was a three-pointer by Bennett, or buckets from Buysee, Seitzinger or Hodges, the Jays were reliably able to stem the tide.

“In the second half we didn’t execute as well but we did execute at critical times,” Heckenlaible said. “I thought we did a pretty good job in our zone but were a little tired from our long road trips. Our legs were a little weary under us and we weren’t maybe quite as quick in our zone.”

West shot at a 55 percent clip from the field on the day and was just shy of 71 percent on its 24 shots at the stripe. Another big difference was a solid rebounding effort, where the Jays outworked Ridgewater 41-26.

Now 16-7 on the season and 9-4 in the Southern Division of the Minnesota College Athletic Conference, the Bluejays will pack up for another road trip, scheduled for Wednesday evening in Coon Rapids with Anoka-Ramsey. The Golden Rams are rivals of West’s and fell in Worthington on Jan. 18, 83-77. Ridgewater went to 5-16 on the season.

“Even with our weary legs, we were able to do some pretty good things,” Heckenlaible said. “It was a huge win for us as we keep trying to climb that ladder in the standings.”

Ridgewater 28 67

Bluejays 48 80

RIDGEWATER (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) — Curry 5-3-1-17, Kromah 2-2-1-11, Lockett 2-1-0-8, Mohamud 2-0-0-6, Rickheim 0-3-4-10, Herrig 0-7-1-15. Totals 8-18-7-67.

BLUEJAYS (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Hodges 1-5-0-13, Bell 0-1-0-2, Murry 1-1-3-8, Seitzinger 0-2-3-7, Buysse 2-3-7-19, Fischer 0-5-0-10, Lupton 0-3-1-7, Bennett 3-1-3-14. Totals 7-21-17-80.

Caleb Nelson
Caleb Nelson is the Daily Globe sports writer. He hails from southwest Iowa and served as sports editor at the Audubon County Advocate Journal there for 2 ½ years before moving to Worthington in October 2013. Caleb trys to enjoy life and everybody that he meets. He enjoys music, playing guitar and drums, and is an avid sports fan. 
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