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Trojan boy cagers get big win over JCC, 78-72

After nine straight losses, the Worthington High School boys basketball team needed a victory. They got it Tuesday night in a gutty performance.

Worthington Trojans Jacari Swinea (41) makes a jump shot towards the net defended by Jackson County Central Huskies Christian Benda (23) and Caleb Thurmer (12) during a Tuesday Night game in Worthington.
Worthington Trojans boys basketball player Jacari Swinea (41) makes a jump shot defended by Jackson County Central's Christian Benda (23) and Caleb Thurmer (12) during a Tuesday night game in Worthington.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

WORTHINGTON -- How badly did the Worthington High School boys basketball team need a win?

“Very bad,” said senior forward-center Jake Brandner.

“Badly,” said head coach CJ Nelson.

After nine losses in a row that saddled the Trojans with a 1-10 record, the WHS boys defeated visiting Jackson County Central 78-72 Tuesday on Meet the Trojans Night. And there was a long line of greeters in the high school lobby smiling and waiting to shake players’ hands.

The Trojans are young, talented, and still needing to learn how to finish games in pressure situations. But they finished well on Tuesday, holding onto a lead that was 15 points early in the second half but evaporated as the Huskies pulled even, 58-58, on a pair of Erik Hesebeck free throws around the five-minute mark.

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The Trojans re-took the lead, and they kept it.

Worthington Trojans Cooper McCoy (15) watches as Kaleb Knothe drives towards the basket defended by Jackson County Central Huskies Christian Benda (23) during a Tuesday Night game in Worthington.
Worthington's Kaleb Knothe drives towards the basket against Jackson County Central's Christian Benda (23)Tuesday.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

“We all just worked hard, worked together,” said Brandner, who finished with 25 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. “We’ve had a lot of experience coming from behind. We just kept playing our game.”

The Huskies grabbed momentum after about five minutes had elapsed in the second half, and when Christian Benda hit his third 3-pointer of the game with less than 11 minutes to go, JCC trailed only 51-46. A Caleb Thurmer 3-point shot made it 52-49 with 9:22 remaining. Senior guard Damien Phaly hit a runner on the baseline for 52-51.

Jackson County Central Huskies Tyler Hendricks (1) is fouled by Trojans Abagotte Opiew as he drives for the basket during a Tuesday Night game in Worthington.
Jackson County Central's Damien Phaly (1) is fouled by Trojans Abagotte Opiew as he drives for the basket in Worthington.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

At 5:53, Worthington’s Abagotte Opiew fouled out, and the Huskies pulled even. Shortly after that, JCC’s Roman Voss fouled out. The Trojans were also playing their second game in a row without point guard Mikele Walu, who decided recently to quit the team, and they sorely needed to pull together in the clutch.

They did. At 1:41 Kaleb Knothe hit an off-balance short jumper off the backboard for a 72-66 WHS advantage. JCC answered with a Phaly shot, but at 34.4 it was Knothe again, scoring on a running lay-in for 74-70. At 24.4 Jacari Swinea made two free throws for 76-70. Too little time remained for a Huskie miracle.

Knothe and Swinea scored 19 points apiece for the Trojans, with Knothe matching Brandner with 13 rebounds.

JCC got a strong game from Hesebeck inside, who scored 23 points. Phaly finished with 17 points while Travis Rogotzke and Benda both had 11.

The Huskies fell to 6-9 with the setback.

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“I hope it’s a boost of confidence for everybody, and we can keep this streak going,” said Brandner.

One game isn’t exactly a streak, but it’s a start.

“We needed a win to get some positivity going again in our blood. We’ve had a great two weeks of practice, and it’s nice being on the winning side of one,” said Nelson. “I’d love it to be a jump-start for the second half of our season. I feel like we’ve been playing a lot harder -- again.”

No, Tuesday’s game wasn’t perfect, Nelson said.

“We gotta be more patient. But we did some good things. We’re young and we’ve got to wait for things to come to us instead of trying to force things to happen,” said the coach.

At halftime, the team talked about attacking the zone by hitting short corner shots and the middle. They did it well enough, and played enough defense, too, to get a much-needed ‘W’.

JCC 31 72

Worthington 40 78

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JACKSON COUNTY CENTRAL (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) -- Phaly 0-6-5-17, R.Voss 0-2-0-4, Rogotzke 3-1-0-11, Thurmer 1-0-1-4, Benda 3-1-0-11, Johnson 0-10-3-23, Powers 0-1-0-2. Totals 7-21-9-72.

WORTHINGTON (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) -- J.Brandner 0-10-5-25, Lia 0-1-0-2, Knothe 2-5-3-19, Brands 0-0-2-2, Swinea 0-7-5-19, McCoy 0-3-0-6, Hayenga 0-0-2-2, A.Opiew 0-1-1-3. Totals 2-27-18-78

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