by MITCHELL BREUER
From The Winonan, WSU’s student newspaper
The Winona State University men’s basketball team’s season came to an end at home this Wednesday, after a 77-89 loss to the University of Minnesota Duluth.
The game was a battle filled with momentum and neither team established a lead throughout the game. This proved to be the case during the first half.
Duluth established a lead but was unable build on it. After being up by as much as seven during the second period, they entered halftime with only a two-point lead. Meanwhile, Winona was only able to keep the visiting team from pulling away, but couldn’t hold a lead.
Sophomore Caleb Wagner led the team in scoring with nine points during the first half and shot three for four from three-point range. He admitted the team needed to do more to defend their home court.
“Obviously, defensively we should’ve been better,” Wagner said. “I think defensively we weren’t there pretty much the whole game. They got going early and we just weren’t doing enough to bother them.”
Winona pulled ahead during the second half of the game. Three-point shots by Wagner and senior Corey Jeffs allowed the team to tie and eventually take the lead. Despite building a six-point lead with under six minutes to go, they were unable to hold it and prevent overtime. Meanwhile, Duluth kept up with the Warriors but couldn’t regain the momentum they had to start the game.
With 16 seconds left, both teams had a shot to end the game but could not. The Warriors, who had perhaps their biggest defensive play of year in the form of a steal by first-year Kevion Taylor couldn’t capitalize, as Taylor missed his last-second shot, forcing the game to go to overtime with a score 72-72.
The game was all about momentum, and during the overtime period it proved to be the game changer. After struggling to build a lead all game, Duluth quickly assembled an eight-point advantage after nailing their first three shots and finally found their speed, going four-five in overtime.
While the Duluth found their heat, Winona grew colder. They were only able to shoot one for 11 and watch as their season came to a close.
The game ended with a final score of 77-89, with Duluth on to South Dakota as they advance in the NSIC/Sanford Health Tournament.
The Warriors end the year improving from a 11-16 record last year to 19-10. Wagner said that he believed this season was a step in the right direction.
“I think the team made huge strides offensively,” Wagner said. “Defensively, we still have quite a bit of work to do. Overall, we made a big stride for the program, and it shows in our record compared to last year. With how hard we work in the off-season, I think we are going to have to duplicate that again this year and keep building this program back to where it should be.”
While the team will lose its leading blocker in senior Jeffs, the rest of the team should stay the same. First-year Devin Whitelow, believes that will be good for the team.
“One positive is that we only lose one person. Corey was a big part of our success, but it helps that we’ll have a lot return next year. We’ll be very experienced overall,” Whitelow said.
As for the Australian, Jeffs ends his time with Winona State after accumulating 545 points, 145 assists, 74 steals and 38 blocks.