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College men's basketball: Next stop for Bluejays -- Nationals

WORTHINGTON -- Minnesota West’s state championship in men’s basketball surprised a lot of people. But it didn’t surprise the players, nor did it surprise their head coach, Aaron Poor Bear.

Poor Bear said he knew his Bluejays would win last weekend’s tournament even before they reached the title game. What happened at halftime of the semifinal contest with Rochester convinced him.

He walked into the locker room and asked a simple question.

“My question was, ‘What do we need to do?’ And they took it from there.”

The players, themselves, and the assistant coaches, took charge. They assessed the situation wisely -- all of them -- and Poor Bear didn’t have to say another word.

“It was like talking to a roomful of coaches. It was exactly what I wanted from them. At halftime when they gave their comments, it was like a roomful of coaches,” Poor Bear recalled. “It was at that moment when I knew we were going to win the whole tournament. It didn’t matter who we played.”

Minnesota West was the fourth seed from the south in the State/Region 13 tourney played in Coon Rapids. The underdog Jays opened strong with an 84-79 victory over the top seed of the north, Rainy River. Next came an 85-80 triumph over the No. 2 south team, Rochester. And finally, an 89-62 victory over the No. 1 seed from the south, Anoka-Ramsey.

The Bluejays’ Alex Brown was declared the most valuable player of the tournament. Teammates Ki’Shawn Syph and DeShawn Pickford joined him on the all-tournament team.

The Bluejays will now travel to Loch Sheldrake, N.Y., for the national tournament March 15-17.

Heading into the state/regional event, the Jays struggled as they waited to recover from minor but irritating injuries. They never lost their confidence, however, and felt they were ready to do some major damage in the postseason.

Turns out, they were.

On Sunday, West outscored Anoka-Ramsey 51-24 in the second half for their solid championship win. Brown scored 20 points with 13 rebounds and five assists. Alex Preston and Syph had 15 points apiece. Pickford scored 13 points with 10 rebounds, and Kuol Chol contributed 11 points, six rebounds and three assists. Tyrone Walker scored 11 points.

The game was deadlocked 38-38 at halftime, but West mounted a 19-2 second half run. The Bluejays hit 60 percent of their field goal attempts in the last 20 minutes, including several from long range, and held the Golden Rams to 27 percent shooting from the floor in the second half.

Poor Bear was a last-minute hire for the Minnesota West team upon the sudden resignation of head coach Kris Babler. Very early in the 2017-18 campaign, the Bluejays’ on-court abilities were plainly evident, but they lost some early games that they appeared sure of winning. Soon after, they shored up their defense, learned how to finish, and made their first-year head coach proud.

When his players took over in the locker room of that Rochester game, Poor Bear said, “it was probably the most proud I’ve been in my coaching career.”

He added, “They know what they need to do. They do that and they’re helping each other. You can’t coach that. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind at that moment that we were going to win the tournament.”

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

(507) 376-7328
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