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College basketball: Bluejays lose Southern Division opener

AARON HAGEN Daily Globe WORTHINGTON -- It was a chance at a new beginning for the Minnesota West men's basketball team. Wednesday marked the beginning of the Southern Division schedule, giving every team a clean slate in pursuit of a playoff spot...

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Tim Middagh/Daily Globe Minnesota West's Jayden Hampton (3) leaps through Riverland Blue Devils defenders Jace Klinkner (25) and Darius Bell (11) Wednesday night in Worthington.

AARON HAGEN

Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON -- It was a chance at a new beginning for the Minnesota West men’s basketball team.

Wednesday marked the beginning of the Southern Division schedule, giving every team a clean slate in pursuit of a playoff spot.

For much of Wednesday’s game, Riverland and West battled in a tight matchup. But a 20-3 run midway through the second half propelled the Blue Devils to a 75-68 victory.

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“Coach told us that all the games we played before break, it’s over,” MW’s Trevoris Waugh said. “It’s pretty much a new season if you look at it. In the locker room after the game, coach told us it’s only one game, but we still have so much work to put in. We’re going to get back in the gym and work hard. I’m going to push my teammates and I know they are going to push me and we’re going to get it done.”

From the beginning, Waugh was determined to start the division schedule on a good note. He scored the team’s first six points and finished with a team-high 16 points and seven rebounds.

“I was just trying to produce,” Waugh said. “I haven’t been producing the way I should have been producing during the season and I felt like this is the game where I should go in and give it everything I have for my teammates.”

While Waugh had a good start, Riverland’s Jace Klinkner struggled in the first half and finished with six points on 2-of-9 shooting. But the division’s third-leading scorer found his rhythm.

He scored 24 second-half points and finished the game 10 for 19 from the field, including 4 for 4 from beyond the arc in the second half.

“I just have to give it to my teammates, they got me the ball. I just hit my shots,” said Klinkner, who said the second half was as good as he’s shot. “In the first half, I didn’t do that good.”

The Bluejays jumped out to an 11-2 lead after Kuol Chol (14 points, seven rebounds) hit a shot and Jeremy Joseph (12 points) knocked down a triple.

“We’re playing pretty good basketball,” MW head coach Kris Babler said. “The thing with Kuol that nobody saw tonight was Kuol was throwing up sick with the flu at halftime. He even has another level there that we didn’t get to see.”

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Riverland tied the game at 13 as the first half was close throughout. A Jayden Hampton (14 points) in the final seconds of the half gave MW a 31-28 lead at the break.

Out of halftime, the Bluejays opened the game up. With the score tied at 38, Waugh made a three-point play. Chol then stole a Riverland pass at the top of the key and threw down a two-handed dunk. Joseph followed with a triple as MW led 46-38.

“We just trust in each other,” Waugh said. “We were moving the ball and finding each other. Kuol is an amazing athlete. He’s the best athlete on the team if you ask me. That dunk gave us a spark so we fed off of that and tried to keep our foot on the gas. But eventually they started knocking down shots and we started turning the ball over and we got the results that we got.”

That’s when Klinkner took control.

He made back-to-back 3s before hitting a jumper. Darius Bell made a jumper and Klinkner made two more 3-pointers as the 6-foot guard scored 14 points in less than four minutes.

“Klinkner went off,” Babler said. “We shut him down in the first half. Shame on me, I didn’t notice that Kuol got off him. Klinkner went after our guys. He’s a good ballplayer. That’s twice now we’ve had guys come into our gym and put up big numbers.”

While Klinkner nearly single-handedly went on a 20-3 run for Riverland, the West offense was struggling. For nearly nine minutes, the Jays weren’t able to hit a field goal.

A Brandon Harcula 3 brought MW within five points in the final minute, but that’s as close as it would get as the Blue Devils took the victory.

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“We had a chance,” Waugh said. “I’m proud of my guys. They gave effort, they gave their all. You can only ask so much, but I will continue to push my teammates and I know they will continue to push me and coach will continue to push us as a group.”

Riverland 28 75Minnesota West 31 68RIVERLAND (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Stone 0-3-0-6, Moise 0-1-0-2, Kuany 0-2-2-6, Abdikadir 0-2-0-4, Bell 0-5-3-13, Klinkner 4-6-6-30, Makazu 0-2-4-8, Paulson 1-1-1-6. Totals 5-22-16-75.BLUEJAYS (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Chol 0-4-6-14, Harcula 1-0-2-5, Hampton 1-2-7-14, Joseph 3-0-3-12, Ramos 0-0-1-1, Carter 0-3-0-6, Waugh 0-6-4-16. Totals 5-15-23-68.

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