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Men's college basketball: Minnesota West wins battle of the Blues

WORTHINGTON -- The Minnesota West Bluejays needed to step up Saturday afternoon.Fortunately for them, several of them did.Saddled with a 1-3 Southern Division record heading into Saturday's home game with Riverland, the Jays knew that if they wer...

WORTHINGTON - The Minnesota West Bluejays needed to step up Saturday afternoon.
Fortunately for them, several of them did.
Saddled with a 1-3 Southern Division record heading into Saturday’s home game with Riverland, the Jays knew that if they were to mount a challenge this year in their conference, they needed to beat the Blue Devils. They did, 79-70, staking themselves to an 18-point lead in the first half, withstanding a Riverland run before halftime, and holding their rivals at bay throughout the second half.
“The games we’ve won and done well, we’ve had different guys step up and do well,” said head coach Justin Heckenlaible. “And the times we haven’t, we only had one or two guys.”
In the first half on Saturday, the Bluejays received a spark offensively from freshman Rashead Yelverton, who teamed up with teammate Tyler Aquallo for timely 3-point shots that helped the home team move out to a 36-18 lead. When Minnesota West began to get a little careless, Riverland made a run to climb to within five points, 36-31.
Leading 42-37 at halftime - led by Yelverton’s 13 points and Aquallo’s 10 - the Jays started well in the second half as sophomore forward Deandre Pennington scored the half’s first four points. Jesse Koerselman, a 6-7 center from Little Rock, Iowa, then sunk a few baskets down low and the Bluejays increased the margin some more. A pair of 3-pointers by Zech Adams and a Yelverton driving layup made it 60-46.
Determined to mount a comeback, Riverland climbed to within five points, 68-63, on a 3-pointer by Darius Bell. But the Devils could get no closer. Smart ball-handling, and some clutch free throws down the stretch by Aquallo, preserved the win.
“Every night there’s somebody who steps up,” Koerselman said after the game. “It’s great when we can be consistent. It would be great if we could all play that way every night.”
Aquallo, who made 9-of-10 free throws for the game, finished with 20 points - the same as his division-leading 20-point average. Yelverton, who like Aquallo converted three 3-point shots in the first half, finished with 15. Pennington scored 13 points. Adams had 10. Koerselman, who muscled his way through traffic for his rebounds as well as his points, scored eight.
Koerselman said he and his teammates were prepared to fight back after Riverland made its first-half run. “Every team makes a run. We made our run and they made their run. And they never made a big-enough run to take the lead,” he said.
“We got that big lead and I think we relaxed a bit,” Heckenlaible said. “In the second half we couldn’t quite break it open. But we got some stops. I think for the most part we played with good intensity.”
Bell scored 15 points for Riverland, which falls to 6-12 overall and 1-4 in the Southern Division. Teammate Marcus Myers led the Blue Devils with 19 points and Donte Makazu added 15 more.
The victory upped Minnesota West to 5-10 and 2-4. The Bluejays’ are next scheduled to be on their home floor at 8 p.m. Wednesday, when they’ll take on M State-Fergus Falls. The Minnesota West women are set to battle M State at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Worthington.
Riverland 37 70
Bluejays 42 79

Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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