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Free throws doom Bluejays in home loss to St. Cloud Tech

The Blue Jays' Chris Morales (20) flips the ball behind his back after slipping past St. Cloud Community and Technical College defenders Jimmie McAfee (3), Keshawn Sutton (2), Taye Carter (24) and Minnesota West's Emmanuel Tor. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)1 / 3
Minnesota West's Montrez Hearon (15) pushes past St. Cloud Technical guards Eric Racine (left) and Max May. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)2 / 3
(Tim Middagh / The Globe)3 / 3

WORTHINGTON — Close games can often come down to free throws.

On Saturday, the Minnesota West men’s basketball team didn’t make enough.

The Bluejays hung close with St. Cloud Technical College, but the Cyclones pulled away late for a 78-71 victory.

“It wasn’t enough focus, that’s the No. 1 thing,” West’s Jaimon Cheek said. “The main thing we were saying in the locker room is we’re at home and we don’t have to worry about any of that, we just have to worry about playing the game. Like I told them in the locker room, basketball is a game of runs. It’s a fast-paced game and momentum could switch at any time, any moment of the game. That’s what happened today. They pulled it out the last couple of minutes, and we couldn’t get it done.”

West had a one-point lead (57-56) with 8:57 remaining in the game after a pair of made free throws from Chris Morales.

But from that point on, the Bluejays made just two of their final 10 foul shots as the Cyclones built a 12-point lead — their biggest of the night.

“Honestly, it’s a game I expected to win,” MW head coach Taylor Lupton said. “We can hang with everybody. We’ve hung with everybody this year. It’s kind of frustrating. We’re just not making the extra pass once or not finishing free throws.”

In the game, Minnesota West made just 14 of 33 from the line.

“Our biggest thing was free throws. When it came down to it, we missed 19 free throws,” Cheek said. “In order to beat good teams, you have to make free throws and you have to execute. For the first part, we were executing, but then we started to play one on one for a little bit.”

While West never led in the first half, it never led St. Cloud pull away as the Cyclones led by three at the break.

Cheek scored four points and Montrez Hearon scored on a drive to start the second half to give the Jays their first lead of the game. West’s biggest lead came midway through the half as Jake DeLange hit a 3, Morales buried a triple and DeLange threw down a two-handed dunk to give MW a four-point advantage.

The teams traded points, with West taking the 57-56 lead. That would be its final lead as St. Cloud slowly pulled away.

“We were there pretty much the whole game,” Lupton said. “We’re competing with all these teams. Last year, we always came out on the top side, but now the odds are catching up to us.”

Dillon Haider scored a game-high 22 points to lead St. Cloud. Haider, a 49 percent 3-point shooter, was 4 of 6 from beyond the arc.

“Coach was telling us that we can’t leave the shooters at all,” Cheek said. “It’s crazy because if we were to leave the shooter, they get the open 3, but if we don’t leave the shooter, they get the open lane right to the basket. There’s really nothing we could do about that.”

Cheek scored 20 points to lead West, while Morales had 13 and DeLange scored 12.

The Cyclones, who entered the day tied atop the Southern Division, improve to 18-3 overall. West falls to 7-14. After winning the first two division games, the Bluejays have now lost their last eight.

“It’s more of a defensive thing,” Cheek said. “We can get the offense flowing, but when we trade buckets, we can never win games like that. You have to get a defensive stop. Most teams like the team we just played, they are defensively sound. That’s why it was tough. They pulled it through and we didn’t.”

St. Cloud Tech 35 78

Bluejays 32 71

  1. CLOUD TECH (3FG-2FT-FT-TP) Sutton 2-5-2-18, McAfee 0-2-1-5, Boker 0-2-0-4, Haider 4-2-6-22, Carter 0-2-0-4, Coleman 1-1-0-5, May 0-1-0-2, Racine 1-4-2-13, Gardner 1-0-2-5. Totals 9-19-13-78.

BLUEJAYS (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Cheek 1-6-5-20, Pickford 0-2-0-4, Smith 0-1-0-2, Heron 0-3-1-7, Morales 2-2-3-13, Bwayna 2-0-2-8, Tor 0-2-1-5, DeLange 2-2-2-12. Totals 7-18-14-71.