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Bluejay men win, top Rainy River 84-79

COON RAPIDS — Rainy River may have been a top seed in the NJCAA Region XIII Men’s Basketball Tournament, but Minnesota West was the top team Friday night.

Alex Brown scored 29 points and added eight rebounds and six assists, leading the fourth-seeded Bluejays (17-11) to an 84-79 opening-round triumph over the Voyageurs and ending a three-game losing skid.

“He had a big game for us — he was clutch,” Minnesota West head coach Aaron Poor Bear said of Brown, who helped fuel a comeback from a double-digit deficit in the waning minutes of the second half.

“I think there were about six minutes left in the game and we were down 10, and we just had to battle back to get the lead,” Poor Bear added. “Then, late in the game, there was a big pass from Ki’Shawn Syph — he kicked out to Brown, and he hit a big 3.”

Brown also hit two free throws with two seconds left on the clock to ice the game for the Bluejays and cap a memorable win.

“We had to make defensive stops to make that run,” Poor Bear said. “Without the stops, the game would have been over. We not only had to run our offense as efficiently as we can, and Rainy River played well defensively, but we also just happened to make the key plays down near the end.”

Minnesota West was buoyed by a 17-of-22 effort as a team from the charity stripe. Rainy River, meanwhile, was 7-of-9.

“The goal was to attack and get to the line,” Poor Bear said. “Obviously, we made 10 more free throws than they did, and that was a difference in the game.”

DeShawn Pickford chipped in 16 points for Minnesota West, which will next play at 1 p.m. today against Rochester. Rainy River, which was led by Davarius Wright’s 21 points and six rebounds, finished the year with a 20-7 record.

“Now that we have our starters back, it certainly shows,” Poor Bear stated. “Rainy River is actually a lot better than I anticipated them being, but it’s tournament time and everyone is going to play a level higher than they’re usually playing, and we saw that all day today.”

Minn West 43 84

Rainy River 42 79