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Game of spurts: Luverne boys basketball team withstands Worthington in wild season opener

Outscored 19-1 at the onset, the Worthington Trojans boys basketball team rallied to a 35-28 lead in the second half against Luverne in its 2021 season opener Monday night -- only to see the Cardinals go on another spurt, this time holding the line in a 54-49 victory at the WHS gym.

012021 N DG Trojans boys basketball vs Luverne S3.jpg
Luverne Cardinals Gannon Ahrendt (in white) intercepts a Trojan pass and pitches the ball back down the court during a Monday night game hosted by Worthington. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- Outscored 19-1 at the onset, the Worthington Trojans boys basketball team rallied to a 35-28 lead in the second half against Luverne in its 2021 season opener Monday night -- only to see the Cardinals go on another spurt, this time holding the line in a 54-49 victory at the WHS gym.

The first nine minutes of the first half were surreal. The Cardinals, pressuring the home team over the full court, seemed to have the Trojans hypnotized. Head coach Clint Meyer’s squad made numerous poor passes for several minutes, and were often unable to attempt a shot for many of their possessions against a disciplined LHS zone defense.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals were workmanlike on offense. Bailey Cowell and Gannon Ahrendt scored the team’s first 13 points.

The turnaround began when Worthington sunk its first field goal of the game -- a 3-point shot by senior Terbuto Ochothow.

“That one bucket going in kind of just gave us momentum. Like we’re in a basketball game here,” Meyer said.

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Released from their funk, the Trojans roared to a four-point deficit at halftime, 28-24, as fellow senior Brock Bruns connected on an NBA 3-pointer with 22 seconds remaining.

Ochothow stayed hot to start the second half, scoring on Worthington’s first possession, then scoring again on a short pull-up jumper to tie the score at 28. With 13:26 to go, another short Ochothow jumper put WHS in the lead, and 15 seconds later Ochothow scored again (making it a 3-point play on a free throw) for a 33-28 Trojans advantage.

The Trojans were clearly on a roll. Luverne seemed tired and confused.

Finally, Luverne scored its first points of the second half with 8:15 remaining on a Cowell 3-pointer. Over the next three minutes the Cardinals regained their footing, leading by six. They led 50-45 with 1:25 to go, and Worthington could not make a dent after that.

“Luckily our defense held us up. It seemed like that game lasted four hours,” said Luverne head coach John Sichmeller. “We started playing a little tentative and that’s how we let ‘em get back in it.”

For the Trojans, Monday night was a mixed bag. They learned they could bounce back from an 18-point early deficit, but they also weren’t able to maintain their momentum after finally getting a lead.

“The ball quit going in the hole. I think at one point they had us down for nine consecutive stops, but the score wasn’t changing,” said Meyer.

Ahrendt finished with 17 points and Cowell had 16.

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For Worthington, Ochothow led all scorers with 22 and Bruns added 12. Bruns also had nine rebounds while Joe Boever contributed five. Ochothow had five assists and Mikele Walu had three steals.

Sichmeller said it was defense that lifted his team’s fortunes when the chips were down.

“We just gotta stay doing our stuff. We stuck with that defense. We just trusted our defense instead of getting freaked out,” he explained.

Meyer said the Trojans were lucky to trail by just four at halftime after making 17 first-half turnovers. Then after getting the lead, the momentum changed again.

“We started letting Luverne dictate for a little while there,” he said.

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