College men's basketball: Bluejays lose a close one
By AARON HAGEN
WORTHINGTON -- The Minnesota West men's basketball team struggled to finish Saturday's game against Iowa Lakes.
But there's no need to worry, according to West forward Gary Smith.
After all, the Bluejays (2-2) have a young team and are only four games into the season.
"We feel like we're there," Smith said. "We're literally there. We went against Iowa Lakes and they are a pretty good team. Their guards are pretty good, their big men are pretty good. For us to play like that and compete with them, I'm not really worried about down the line going against conference play. We're a real team to be reckoned with."
The Bluejays were tied with the Lakers -- a Division II school (one higher than West) -- in the final fives minutes. However, Iowa Lakes came away with the 93-89 victory.
"We started to panic," Smith said. "Once we start playing more games, I feel like we're going to get way better with that. It's still early in the season, so we're going to get better playing down the stretch. We've been playing a lot of close games, so I'm not really worried about that."
The Lakers improve to 6-1 on the season, and have scored 90 points or more in each of their six victories.
"They are a really good team," MW head coach Taylor Lupton said. "I think they are averaging like 100 points. What did they have today, 93? It kind of got away from us at the end with that five-minute rut we got into toward the end."
The Bluejays struggled to move the ball offensively down the stretch, often settling for isolation plays. They made three field goals in the final 4 minutes, 44 seconds.
"I tried telling those guys, but we kind of reverted a couple couple weeks rather than step forward a couple weeks," Lupton said. "Maybe that's part of having a game so close to Thanksgiving, you take a couple days off and guys lose a couple of things. Overall, it wasn't bad, but definitely a lot we need to work on."
West started the game with a lead, and had a 39-33 advantage with six minutes remaining in the first half. However, the Lakers answered with a 12-0 run and led by four at the break.
"We played amazing in the first half. Kind of coming out slow in the second half didn't help much. I thought we came out slow anyway, but I think they came out on a 6-0 run in the second half," Lupton said. "They are consistently good, they have a lot of guards and a lot of athletic players. We go against each other very well. They have athletes, we have athletes, they just came out on top today. They definitely closed it better."
At times in the second half, it appeared Iowa Lakes was going to run away with the game, but each time West had an answer.
"We have to learn how to come out a little bit better in the second half," Smith said. "One part of the stretch, they had a good run. We just have to answer back; we have to keep answering. This game is all about runs, we just have to keep answering."
West battled back and tied the game at 72 after a three-point play by Smith, who finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks.
"For me, I like doing the little things, that's always been me. If they are going to pass me the ball, I'm going to hit it for them. I'm going to do anything I can do for the team to get the W," Smith said. "I just felt good today. That's it. I was ready to shoot. They gave me good passes in the pocket, so shout out to my teammates. It was a good day. The result wasn't what we wanted it to be. We just have to go back to practice, we have a game on Friday, we're going to come out and be ready to go."
After the Lakers took the lead, West was within three in the final 1:40. However, the Lakers scored six quick -- highlighted by a dunk from Equan Ards -- as they closed the victory.
"I feel good with this team," Smith said. "I feel like our chemistry is really coming along. I feel like we can come way more close as a unit, we've only played four games. We're looking pretty good. Wait until we get to the middle of January or February, we are going to be dangerous."