College men's basketball: Bluejays pull away for victory

Aaron Hagen Daily Globe WORTHINGTON -- Rashead Yelverton was ready for his moment. He just didn't realize it would come so quickly this season. With the Minnesota West men's basketball team clinging to a slim lead late in Friday's game, Yelverton...

AARON HAGEN/DAILY GLOBE Minnesota West center Jesse Koerselman aims Friday night against Northwestern JV.

Aaron Hagen
Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON - Rashead Yelverton was ready for his moment.
He just didn’t realize it would come so quickly this season.
With the Minnesota West men’s basketball team clinging to a slim lead late in Friday’s game, Yelverton broke free from the Northwestern defense and had a chance for a game-sealing play.
“It kind of messed me up. When I got the ball, I just saw open court. So I was like, ‘This is mine, this is what I do, this is what I live for, the and-ones,’” said the first-year guard. “I had that soft touch, knew I was going to get fouled, and I’m good with and-ones. It all happened.”
Yelverton’s layup was on the mark, and the hard foul resulted in a flagrant foul and two more free-throws.
“Last night, it was crazy, I shot 60 free throws for that moment,” Yelverton said. “Any moment, you never know when it’s going to happen.”
Yelverton completed the rare four-point play as Minnesota West pulled away late for a 95-86 victory over Northwestern College (JV) in the first day of the 12th Annual Sanford Worthington Basketball Classic.
“I had no idea really coming into the game. We have such a new crew,” head coach Justin Heckenlaible said. “We played with lots of energy in the first half. The press bothered us a little bit but we were a little impatient. We had good looks, but that was kind of what they wanted to do and they sped us up. To feel like we struggled offensively and score 90 points, that’s very, very encouraging. We have to get better at rebounding collectively. That was a big key to what they did, they crashed the boards and they made some big 3s.”
The Bluejays were ahead by as many as 22 points in the second half, but Northwestern’s E.J. Drake shot his team back in it. With the Red Raiders trailing 87-78 with 2 minutes, 32 seconds remaining, Drake hit three 3s and with 51 seconds left, NW was within two points, 88-86.
“When you’re up 15 at half, there’s always the danger of letting up a little bit and I think that’s what we did,” Heckenlaible said. “Credit to them, they made some shots. It’s a good sign for us that we had guys that stepped up when they made their run and we didn’t crumble. There’s been years and teams and unfortunately it takes them a few times being in this position to learn how to finish a game. To get it done in the first game, that was awesome.”
Dre Pennington made two free throws to push the lead to 90-86 before a key turnover on NW on an out of bounds play gave the ball back to the Bluejays. Trying to beat the press, Yelverton went streaking down the court with nothing between him and the hoop. His four points gave MW a 94-86 lead before Mitch Prouty hit one final free throw in the final 30 seconds for the 95-86 victory.
“It’s kind of intense, but you have to learn as a team,” Yelverton said. “You have to keep that composure. Once you keep that composure, you can pull out anything. We come in practice every day and we get shots up. We get the chemistry. We work on penetrating and kicking out, just being a team, learning how to be brothers and be a family. That’s how we click as a young team.”
A total of six players scored in double figures for the Bluejays. Yelverton led MW with 22 points while coming off the bench and logging 23 minutes of playing time.
“I’m usually a starter from high school. I just want to be a role player and do anything for my team,” he said. “I try to get better every day. As far as scoring, that’s not even my direction. I’m trying to be an overall player. But I’m blessed to have points that come with it.”
Justin Kruse had 17 points, while fellow big-man Jesse Koerselman had 11 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots.
“With Jesse and Justin, I think we definitely have a good one-two punch there,” Heckenlaible said. “We also played them together at times and that’s another hard matchup for teams to be able to guard that. I haven’t had two post players like that in my however many years I’ve been here. It’s nice to have some big guys that we can do that with.”
Zech Adams had 16 points, while Prouty and Pennington each had 11 in the win for the Bluejays, who jumped out to an 8-1 lead in the game and never trailed.
The Bluejays will square off against Dordt today at 6 p.m. in Day 2 of the classic.
“We just have to start off stronger with the same intensity and chemistry,” Yelverton said. “We have to come out together and we can pull out a big win again.”
NW 33 86
Minnesota West 48 95
Northwestern JV (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Ptaschinkski 3-0-0-9, Hillman 0-4-6-14, Cline 0-1-0-2, DeCora 0-1-2-4, Loeschen 0-2-0-4, Kerns 0-2-1-5, Drake 4-4-6-26, Aiyegbeni 0-0-1-1, Hilbrands 0-5-9-19, Van Roekel 0-1-0-2. Totals 7-20-25-86.
Minnesota West (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Yelverton 2-6-4-22, Adams 1-5-3-16, Prouty 2-0-5-11, Chester 1-0-2-5, Pennington 0-4-3-11, Kruse 0-7-3-17, Koerselman 0-5-1-11. Totals 6-28-21-95.

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