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Barnburner: Trojans come out hot, SWC recovers for 69-68 boys basketball victory

Senior 6-6 forward Carter Van Hulzen scored 22 of his 23 points in the second half, including two 3-point attempts in the final 1:19, and the Southwest Minnesota Christian Eagles held on for an exciting 69-68 victory Thursday over the Worthington Trojans in both team’s boys basketball season openers at the WHS gym.

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The Worthington Trojans' Marenono Opiew (11) puts up a shot against Southwest Minnesota Christian defenders Jarett Kuipers and Dawson Rieck (23) Thursday in Worthington. Tim Middagh / The Globe

WORTHINGTON -- Senior 6-6 forward Carter Van Hulzen scored 22 of his 23 points in the second half, including two 3-point attempts in the final 1:19, and the Southwest Minnesota Christian Eagles held on for an exciting 69-68 victory Thursday over the Worthington Trojans in both team’s boys basketball season openers at the WHS gym.

The veteran-led Eagles trailed 40-29 at halftime against a young and spirited Worthington squad, then chipped away in the second half to bring the game to the wire.

With 1:46 to go in the game, Worthington’s fine 6-2 junior, Marenono Opiew, scored on a driving layup to give the home team a 2-point lead, but Van Hulzen answered quickly with a 3 and the score was 64-63 in Southwest’s favor. A steal and a drive the length of the floor by the Eagles’ Micah Schaap made it 69-65 Southwest, but the plucky Trojans weren’t done yet.

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Southwest Minnesota Christian Eagle Micah Schaap (25) drives in to take a shot Thursday against Worthington's Jake Brandner (1) and Mak Lia (3). Tim Middagh / The Glob

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Opiew’s 3 brought the Trojans within a point, and a time-out was called with 11.8 seconds remaining. A key moment occurred after the time-out as Southwest could not get the ball inbounded against a stern WHS defense. A split-second before a turnover was to occur, Eagles head coach Jamie Pap was given a time-out and the visitors had another chance.

The Worthington bench was livid, thinking five seconds had expired. But after the game, Pap said he knew he was going to get the call. He had informed the referee closest to him to keep an eye on him -- that he would call the time-out if he needed it if the in-bounds pass couldn’t be made under Worthington’s basket.

“I knew I had it. Unless the guy on the other end was counting too fast,” Pap said.

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Trojan Kaleb Knothe (33) drives Southwest Christian's Carter Van Hulzen Thursday night in the team's boys basketball season opener. Tim Middagh / The Globe

His counterpart, first-year Worthington head coach CJ Nelson, said he couldn’t be sure. But he certainly wanted the call anyway.

“Sometimes you want that call ‘cuz it’s your home court. The guys are working hard, they get a five-count, and boom -- they say they get a time-out.”

This time, SWC inbounded the ball with no trouble. A second later Van Hulzen missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw opportunity and Worthington got the rebound, but they couldn’t get a shot off.

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Pap, whose team is coming off a 19-3 record in 2020-21, said he was suitably impressed with the Trojans’ first half, but he wasn’t worried.

“We had plenty of time left, and I knew we were going to get rolling. But I thought Worthington came in with a little less pressure,” he said, adding that the Trojans did many things well before halftime.

“Back-door cut. They did really well on back-door cuts. Really well. But they also did a really good job at competing. I thought they competed very well,” he said.

Schaap, the Eagles’ crafty senior floor leader, finished with 20 points, and Dawson Rieck had 12.

Opiew made big baskets all night for Worthington and finished with 27 points. Kaleb Knothe, a 6-0 sophomore guard, showed the coolness of a senior while scoring 15 points in the first half and finishing with 18.

“We got a young, athletic team. They love basketball. They just work hard. In practice it’s a battle and it was no different today. They just want to win every game,” said Nelson.

The first half was an eye-opener not just for the Eagles, but for the fans. The Trojans were quicker than the Eagles on defense, and their fast hands led to several steals. Senior Jake Brandner blocked two shots. The Trojans were also able to get a few charging calls.

On offense they anticipated as if they were in mid-season form, going back door for easy baskets. They showed outstanding movement without the ball and they shot well from all over the floor, making five 3-point shots to zero for SWC. About the only thing they didn’t do well was shoot their free throws; they converted just three of 12 in the first half, though they made 11 of 13 in the second half.

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Three different Trojans had four fouls less than halfway through the second half.

That the Trojans were able to keep Van Hulzen to just one point at intermission was highly surprising. But they couldn’t keep him down for the whole game. The smaller Trojans had match-up problems with him.

“I finally got in the post, and (my teammates) got me some touches, which was key,” Van Hulzen said after the game.

His 3-point shot with 53.6 seconds to go, which gave Southwest a 67-65 lead, was well beyond the arc. Few players -- and fewer big men like Van Hulzen -- would have attempted that shot at that point.

Why did he shoot it there?

“‘Cuz I was hot. I was feeling it,” he said.

Afterward, Nelson said the kind of effort fans saw Thursday night will be repeated regularly.

“Losing sucks. But I think it was a great starting point to show people that we’re going to compete and we’re going to work hard game in and game out,” he said.

Southwest Christian 29 69

Worthington 40 68

SOUTHWEST CHRISTIAN (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) -- Schaap 0-8-4-20, Van’t Hof 0-0-0-0, Rieck 2-1-4-12, Van Hulzen 3-6-2-23, Walhof 0-3-1-7, Kuipers 0-1-0-2, Talsma 0-2-0-4, Ulik 0-0-1-1. Totals 5-21-12-69.

WORTHINGTON (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) -- Walu 0-3-0-6, Brandner 0-2-0-4, Knothe 1-6-3-18, Lia 1-0-3-6, M. Opiew 3-6-6-27, Swinea 0-1-2-4, Mulder 1-0-0-3. Totals 6-18-14-68.

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
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