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MW basketball: Red-hot Harcula, Bluejays defeat Western Tech

By Aaron Hagen

Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON -- Brandon Harcula said it was frustrating to not see his shots fall.

But that was early in the season.

Lately, the sharp-shooting freshman on Minnesota West’s men’s basketball team has been on a hot streak. That continued Saturday in the Bluejays’ 109-90 victory over Western Wisconsin Tech.

“I thought I played pretty good,” Harcula said. “My teammates were finding me pretty early and getting me involved. I started feeling myself going into the half.”

Harcula finished with a team-best 28 points Saturday.

“It feels great,” he said. “There was a lot of frustration early in the year not knocking down shots that I know should be going in. Teammates kept me up and told me to keep shooting and they started falling.”

In his last five games, Harcula has averaged 19.4 points per game. Before the holiday break, he hadn’t scored more than 10 points in a game.

“I struggled a lot in the beginning of the year,” Harcula said. “I got here a little bit late and I was out of shape. Recently I’ve been starting to get in the gym more and working on my game. Kuol (Chol) and Jayden (Hampton), our primary ball handlers, have really been looking for me.”

West found itself down early in Saturday’s game, but came back to lead 31-25 midway through the first half. The Bluejays would never trail again.

“I think we’re all feeling ourselves,” Harcula said. “The biggest thing is the ball movement. We’re moving the ball and trusting each other and relying on each other. Jeremy (Joseph) is coming off the bench and knocking down big shots, which helps get me open because they have to worry about him too. I couldn’t do it without him.”

MW built a 53-42 lead at the break.

Out of halftime, Harcula hit a 3-pointer, Trevoris Waugh made a shot and Chol hit a bucket as the lead went to 16.

But the Cavaliers battled back and had the deficit to six points, 61-55. Like they did all game, the Bluejays had an answer and quickly pushed the lead back to 14 points.

WT’s Shawn Gerron -- who finished with a game-high 33 points -- stopped the run, but West continued to build the lead.

“We struggled with Gerron,” Harcula said. “He’s a good ball player and good shooter. All around, I thought we did pretty good and pretty solid.”

Western Tech couldn’t make a run late in the game as a pair of 3s by Hampton and a layup by Harcula pushed the lead to 20 points.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all. I was expecting a guy who could score 10-20 a night when I recruited him,” MW head coach Kris Babler said of Harcula. “He’s having his shots fall and he doesn’t have to be the guy. Defenses worry about Kuol, defenses worry about Jayden, defenses worry about Trey catching it inside and hurting teams that way. Everybody is forgetting about him because on the season he’s shooting such a low percentage. But he’s just come on strong at the right time.”

It was just the fourth win at home for West this season.

“We haven’t played well at home all season,” Babler said. “I thought even tonight when we were ready to stick the dagger in, we’d do the same stupid stuff that’s put us in trouble. We’d try to show off for the crowd or we’d try to make the home-run play instead of just being solid.”

The Bluejays shot 57 percent from the field and had 10 turnovers in the game.

Chol finished with 22 points and seven assists, while Waugh had 19 points and seven rebounds. Hampton had 17 points and five assists.

“We started so slow, but we walked into this pretty confident,” Babler said. “This group has come on and we feel like we’re a little better than our record and we should be threatening for that fourth spot. We took care of business today, guys scored baskets.”

The Bluejays (8-14, 5-5), who are still alive for a playoff spot, will host Ridgewater on Wednesday.

“We stole one against Ridgewater on a buzzer-beater by Jeremy Joseph,” Babler said. “So they are going to come down here, if we can get them, we’d have the tiebreaker and we’d slide up to the fifth spot owning our own destiny. You have to beat those types of teams to get through the region anyway.”

Western Tech 42 90Minnesota West 53 109
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