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Trojan boys basketball team hangs on to win in tough Windom Area test

First-year Worthington High School head boys basketball coach CJ Nelson produced his first victory Tuesday night as the Trojans held on for a 67-60 win over a tough, disciplined Windom Area squad at the WHS gym.

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Worthington Trojans Mak Lia (3) beats Windom Eagles Henry Erickson (33) and Dylan Serreyn (34) to the hope for a layup during a Tuesday evening game. Tim Middagh / The Globe

WORTHINGTON -- First-year Worthington High School head boys basketball coach CJ Nelson produced his first victory Tuesday night as the Trojans held on for a 67-60 win over a tough, disciplined Windom Area squad at the WHS gym.

Nelson admitted it wasn’t pretty, but when it came down to crunch time, the Trojans delivered.

A pair of Mikele Walu free throws with 33.3 seconds remaining gave the Trojans a 64-60 lead, and a Jacari Swinea rebound of a long missed jump shot by Windom Area’s Abe McKibben led to more Worthington points. Swinea, who was fouled with 19 seconds left, made the first and missed his second free throw attempt, but teammate Jake Brandner out-fought a couple of Eagles for the rebound and put it in for a 67-60 Trojans lead.

That was enough. And that’s where the game ended, evening Worthington’s record at 1-1.

Walu’s free throws were big. The 5-11 junior point guard went calmly to the line and sunk them both. When asked what he was thinking when he went to the line, he answered quickly.

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“I’m gonna make these,” he said. “I have confidence in myself.”

Worthington lost its season opener against an outstanding Southwest Minnesota Christian team by just one point, but the Trojans played exciting, aggressive basketball and came up with a lot of turnovers and rebounds out of sheer hustle. On Tuesday, however, it was a challenge.

“I think when it came down to just making big plays, someone came up,” said Nelson. “I think in the first half we were letting them beat us down the floor, and we just can’t do that. I thought we came out with more intensity in the second half.”

Windom Area led 34-31 at halftime as McKibben scored 12 points and point guard Henry Erickson had 11.

The Eagles’ game plan was effective. They matched the Trojans’ quickness and they passed well. Senior 6-5 post Dylan Serreyn was another effective weapon for the visitors inside.

Neither team was able to pull away in the second half. Worthington led by six, 58-52, on an Andrew Mulder 3-point shot with 6:20 remaining, but the Eagles fought back.

Senior forward-center Jake Brandner finished with 18 points for the Trojans, and sophomore Mak Lia had 14. Swinea and Kaleb Knothe each had 10.

The Trojans played without junior forward Marenono Opiew, who was instant offense in the Southwest Christian game.

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McKibben, Serreyn and Erickson produced 54 points between them, with McKibben getting 20, Serreyn 19 and Erickson 15.

Walu said he thought his team was more intense in the opener, and that the Trojans’ defense still needs work.

“We gotta tighten up our defense, because their guys came right through the middle. It was mostly the guards’ fault, letting guys go right past us. But once we tightened it up, we stopped it a little bit more,” Walu said.

Big inside players like Serreyn will pose more problems for the Trojans -- who are not a particularly big team -- unless they keep tinkering with their strategy.

“We work on it a lot in practice, about getting around and getting in position,” said Nelson. “We’ve got to work harder at getting in position and putting pressure on the ball so they can’t just throw it over the top. And we’ve got to keep working on backside help.”

Windom Area 34 60

Worthington 31 67

WINDOM AREA (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) -- McKibben 2-4-6-20, Wormstadt 1-0-0-3, Armstrong 1-0-0-3, Erickson 0-6-3-15, Serreyn 0-9-1-19. Totals 4-19-10-60

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WORTHINGTON (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) -- Brandner 0-9-0-18, Walu 0-3-2-8, Knothe 3-2-0-10, Swinea 1-2-3-10, Mulder 1-0-0-3, Brands 0-1-0-2, Lia 0-7-0-14, McCoy 0-1-0-2. Totals 5-25-5-67.

120721 N DG Worthington Trojans Boys Basketball vs Windom Eagles S1.jpg
Worthington Trojans Kaleb Knothe (33) takes advantage of a post block from teammate Charles Brands (35) to sink a three point shot Windom Eagles Dylan Serreyn (34) during a Tuesday evening game. Tim Middagh / The Globe

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
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Statistical leaders in Red Rock Conference girls basketball have been released through Jan. 17. Southwest Minnesota Christian led the league with a 7-0 conference record, followed by Red Rock Central 5-2, Edgerton 5-3, Hills-Beaver Creek 3-2, Mountain Lake Area/Comfrey 4-4, Westbrook-Walnut Grove 3-3, Heron Lake-Okabena/Fulda 2-4, Adrian/Ellsworth 1-5 and Murray County Central 0-7.
Tuesday night sports roundup:
The Worthington Trojans wrestling team won two matches in a triangular Tuesday.
In Monday high school sports action, Adrian/Ellsworth got 15 points from Brock Henning in a 68-58 boys basketball victory over Harris-Lake Park.