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Men's college basketball: West goes three OTs for Lupton's first win

WORTHINGTON -- A year ago, it took half a dozen games before the Minnesota West men's basketball team learned how to win close games. This year, it may have only taken two. The Bluejays went three overtimes to defeat Dordt JV 102-94 Saturday nigh...

Blue Jays vs Dordt Sat 2 web.jpg
Minnesota West Bluejay Emmanuel Akot (in blue) goes up between Dordt Defenders Joey Veurink (on left) and AJ Vanderby during the the Sanford Worthington Basketball Classic on Saturday. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)

 

 

WORTHINGTON -- A year ago, it took half a dozen games before the Minnesota West men’s basketball team learned how to win close games. This year, it may have only taken two.

The Bluejays went three overtimes to defeat Dordt JV 102-94 Saturday night at the 15th Annual Sanford Worthington Basketball Classic. It was the first win ever for head coach Taylor Lupton, who worked as an assistant coach in 2017-18 when the Jays qualified for a national tournament berth.

You couldn’t wipe the smile off Lupton’s face after Saturday’s thrilling victory, which evened the team’s record at 1-1 after a 74-70 loss to Northwestern JV on Friday.

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“When that third overtime was winding down, I was feeling kind of emotional. I still am,” he said as the West gymnasium emptied. “How many people can say they won their first game -- not just me as a coach, but also as athletes -- in a triple overtime game?”

West led for most of two halves, but a 3-point corner shot from Dordt’s Sam Byker with 33.6 seconds remaining in regulation sent the game into overtime tied 65-65.

Dordt got the jump on the Jays in the first OT, leading 72-68 at one point. But West sophomore Deshawn Pickford gave his team a 76-75 lead on a pair of free throws with 32.6 seconds remaining. Logan Walhof, a freshman from Edgerton Southwest Minnesota Christian, hit a free throw to tie the score. Pickford missed a shot at the buzzer and it was on to overtime No. 2.

The Defenders scored the first four points of the second overtime and later led 86-82 on a driving layup by Walhof. But the Bluejays fought back again. A layup by Chris Morales, a freshman from Tea, S.D., tied the score at 86-86. On to 5-minute overtime No. 3.

Walhof, one of three Southwest Christian players on the Defenders JV team (Jeremy Vander Woude and AJ Vanderby are the other two) connected on a 3-point shot to give his team an 89-86 lead. In fact, he scored the first five points the Defenders made in the period.

But again the Bluejays clawed back. A Morales layup, then a Gary Smith layup -- with an added free throw after he was fouled on the play -- gave the hosts a 94-91 advantage. Teammate Jeffery Hudson drove the length of the floor moments later for another layup that made the score 97-91. Pickford added a free throw with 1:19 remaining that, as it turned out, was insurmountable.

“We got three chances, three overtimes, to learn how to win,” said Lupton. “We learned how to win in one of them, at least. When we get to those late-game situations, it’s up to the guys to play. They can create, themselves. We ran a couple of sets at times, and it worked. Sometimes, you gotta let ‘em go.”

Pickford, an energetic guard who scored just five points in the first half, finished with a game-high 31. One of just two experienced holdovers from last season, he was relentless on the offensive end in the overtime periods.

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“If I get the chance to get somebody else the open shot, that’s what I’ll do. But as a sophomore I’m a leader, and if I have the shot I have to take it. But I trust my freshmen, too, because I believe in them.”

Saturday bore out Pickford’s trust in the freshmen. Lupton liberally went to his bench in the first half, taking advantage of the team’s depth.

Four Bluejays finished in double figures. Morales had 14 points, Emmanuel Akot 12, and Smith 10. Akot, a Sioux Falls, S.D., product, also had 12 rebounds while Smith came up with 11. Local products Leighton Gehl of Fulda and Gavin Calmus of Worthington also made contributions in what was a clear team win.

Pickford said the win was good preparation for what’s coming down the road. He was a key member of the 2017-18 squad that qualified for the nationals, and he likes the team’s chances this year, too.

“I believe we can get back there again, ‘cuz we’ve got more players. And they bring different things to the table that we need,” he said.

Byker led Dordt with 22 points. Joey Veurink had 19 points, Walhof had 16, Mitch Irlbeck 16 and Mario Dracon 12.

Dordt JV 28 65 76 86 94

Bluejays 34 65 76 86 102

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Blue Jays vs Dordt Sat 3 web.jpg
Minnesota West's Jaimon Cheek (2) drives downcourt pursued by Dordt's Jeremy Vander Woude (23) as Jay's bench follows the action.(Tim Middagh / The Globe)

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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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