College men's basketball: Bluejays catch a break, beat Western Tech in final moments
WORTHINGTON -- For several weeks now, the Minnesota West Bluejays men's basketball team couldn't seem to catch a break.
Until Wednesday night. Amid a flurry of action in the final moments of West's home game with Western Tech, West earned a 67-66 win to snap an eight-game losing streak. It was a game that could've gone either way. The fact that it went the Bluejays' way gave them a jolt of confidence just when they needed it.
"Big time," agreed freshman guard Chris Morales, who played a big role in the victory. "We needed it mentally and for the conference as well. If everything plays out the way it's supposed to, we've still got a chance to make it to the playoffs."
A very slim chance. The win gave Morales' team an 8-14 record, and a 3-8 mark within the MCAC Southern Division. That's not very impressive at this point in the season, but it was certainly impressive the way the Bluejays fought and scrapped and clawed to beat the Cavaliers Wednesday night at the Center for Health and Wellness.
"Things will fall in your lap when you work hard. They will, eventually, fall into your lap," said head coach Taylor Lupton. "We definitely needed it. You don't want to get used to losing tight ones."
Wednesday's game was a game of short spurts. West led 31-29 at halftime but surrendered the first six points of the second half to Western Tech. A long 3-point shot by Morales (he converted four of six in the game) gave the Bluejays a 43-38 advantage, but Tech regained the lead soon afterward and led 53-47.
The final five minutes were tight all the way. With 2:33 remaining DeShawn Pickford made a steal on one end and drove for a layup for a 64-63 Bluejays lead. At 1:47 Tech's Joshua Brownlee converted a 3-point shot from the corner and Tech led, 66-64.
A clutch turnaround jumper by Pickford knotted the score at 66-66 at the 1:19 mark. At 1:05, Western Tech's Justen Kidd missed two free throws, but the Cavaliers got another chance to score by grabbing the rebound. The ensuing shot missed, and Morales came up with a scramble for the loose ball.
Just 32.4 seconds remained when Pickford made one of two free throws during a controversial moment when the West bench clamored for a goaltending call. West clung to a 1-point lead.
In the final moments Tech missed three shots with a chance to win. After the third shot glanced off West's Gary Smith and out of bounds, the Cavs in-bounded the ball with 3.6 seconds on the clock. But the pass was tipped, and the visitors could not get another shot off as time expired.
Five Minnesota West players scored in double figures. Morales and Pickford both had 14 points. Jaimon Cheek had 13. Montrez Hearon had 12 and Smith had 10. Cheek also had four steals and 10 rebounds. Smith had seven rebounds and Morales had six.
Andrew Scott and Mhalik Lindsey both scored 13 points for Western Tech.
After the game, Lupton praised the performances of Morales, Pickford and Cheek, who used his body well against taller Western Tech players.
"We were definitely outmatched in the post. They have two real good inside players. Jaimon stepped up for us. He's definitely a stronger guy. For him to be able to put a body on somebody is huge, for a guy who's only 6-2," Lupton said.
How big was Wednesday's win?
"We've probably had five games or so where it's come down to one shot. And this one came down to one shot. But we won this one," said Lupton.
Finally, the Jays got a break.
Morales smiled. "It means we're learning, right?" he said.
Western Tech 29 66
Bluejays 31 67
WESTERN TECH (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) -- Gurholt 0-1-0-2, Brownlee 3-1-0-11, Kidd 0-1-1-3, Farah 2-3-0-12, Scott 0-6-1-13, Lindsey 2-3-1-13, Huneck 0-2-0-4, Wingert 0-4-0-8. Totals 7-21-3-66.
BLUEJAYS (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) -- Cheek 1-4-2-13, Pickford 0-6-2-14, Hearon 0-5-2-12, Morales 4-1-0-14, Bwayna 0-0-0-0, Smith 0-4-2-10, DeLange 0-2-0-4. Totals 5-22-8-67.