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Late opportunity slips away for Bluejays

The Bluejays' Gary Smith (11) takes advantage of an opening in the Northwestern Red Raiders defense and slips past Red Raiders Isaac Vietor (40) and Jesse Van Wyk (34) in Friday's Sanford Worthington Basketball Classic game. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)1 / 3
Minnesota West's Deshawn Pickford (3) leaps past Northwestern's J.T Engebretson for a layup Friday. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)2 / 3
Minnesota West's coach and fans cheer as the Bluejays take the lead in the first half. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)3 / 3

WORTHINGTON — The Minnesota West men’s basketball team had a chance.

After trailing by seven in the final one minute, 27 seconds, the Bluejays were within two points and had the ball.

But an untimely turnover and a layup on the other end sealed MW’s 74-70 loss to Northwestern JV in Friday night’s 15th Annual Sanford Worthington Basketball Classic.

“It was fun,” MW head coach Taylor Lupton said. “It was the little things. That’s something we’re working on, the little things.”

The Bluejays led 37-33 at halftime, but the Red Raiders stayed close. After a Northwestern 3 gave it a 50-48 advantage, West’s Jeffrey Hudson answered with a triple to take a 51-50 lead.

However, NW scored seven quick points to lead by six.

Chris Morales hit a shot for MW, but another trey from the Raiders pushed the lead to seven with less than eight minutes to go.

DeShawn Pickford responded with a basket and a three-point play as MW stayed close.

Despite 3s from Gustavo Cruz Diaz and Jaimon Cheek, West found itself down 71-64 in the final minute and a half.

Cheek hit a triple to bring the Jays within four. After a turnover by Northwestern, Pickford made a 3 as West was within one.

Northwestern missed the front end of a one-and-one to give MW the ball back. But a long-range shot was off the mark, and the Red Raiders got the rebound and were fouled. After making one free throw to push the lead to 72-70, Minnesota West had the ball with 20 seconds remaining.

However, the Red Raiders were able to force a turnover and Max Stoltz made a layup to give NW the four-point win.

“That’s what I told the guys, too. We missed four free throws and we had a couple fast-break layups that didn’t go in,” Lupton said. “You fix two of those things and make one free throw and we win.”

The Bluejays made 10 3-pointers in the game as they tried to shoot over the NW zone.

“We probably worked on zone offense for about three days so far,” Lupton said. “We saw a whole game of it, so that hurt a little bit. So we weren’t always in the right spots, but we’re getting there. It’s a process. We competed. We got behind a little bit, but we came right back and made it a very exciting game.”

For a team that has struggled with defense early in the season, West made improvements on Friday, holding the Red Raiders to 74 points.

“That’s pretty decent, especially with a team that shoots a lot of 3s,” Lupton said. “I think we shot a lot of 3s, too, but I don’t think that’s going to be a characteristic of us. I think that was more of the fact we weren’t ready for the zone. We were half ready for it.

.“We weren’t always in the right spot, so time gets down on the clock and you’re forced to shoot it. Not that any of them were horrible decisions, but it’s just getting to know the offense.”

Pickford led MW with 21 points, while Morales had 11 points and Cheek added 10.  

“I think a lot of the guys really enjoyed it,” Lupton said. “Every guy that got in there competed tonight. Guys are going to get more of a chance the more games we have.”

The Bluejays (0-1) face Dordt JV today in the second day of the Sanford Classic.

Northwestern JV 33 74 Minnesota West 37 70
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