Blugolds narrowly escape loss in home opener

The men’s Blugold basketball team won against Saint Paul’s Hamline University (Minn.) 77-75 on Nov. 22.

With the game tied at 75 and two seconds on the clock, junior forward Andy Kleist was at the free-throw line after being fouled. Although the game was literally on the free-throw line, Kleist said he had no doubt that he could seal the victory for the Blugolds.

“We practice free throws a lot, so I’ve got to credit Coach for giving me those situations,” Kleist said. “And I had confidence so it worked out well.”

But the Blugolds had more than just confidence going for them.

In the game, Eau Claire hit 9 of 16 three-pointers in the first half and headed into the locker room with a nine point lead. They eventually finished 11 for 28, but Coach Kyle Green was fine with the shot selection.

Green said that while their first half three-point shooting gave the men confidence, some of the shots in the game can occasionally be “fool’s gold.”

“You make nine (three-pointers) and you feel great; second half we only made two and they got back into the game…that’s going to be a strength of our team, the ability to shoot the ball,” Green said.

The Pipers didn’t make it easy for the Blugolds. The Pipers went on a 10 to 1 run to open the second half and the two teams battled back and forth for the lead.

Senior center James Pfitzinger’s two-handed jam with just over four minutes left in the game brought Eau Claire within one – bringing the crowd and gym back to life – and leaving the Blugolds pumped and ready to regain the lead they had held onto for most of the first half.

“We had a rough beginning of the second half and the momentum was definitely going in their direction,” Pfitzinger said of his shooting. “So when I got in, I wanted to be aggressive attacking the basket and that’s what I did…it changed the dynamic of the game to help us out.”

However, with twenty-eight seconds left in the game, Hamline guard Brandon Rieg banked in a miracle three-pointer while falling out of bounds in the corner to tie up the score, 75-75.

Hamline’s momentum also left Green a bit confused.

“That’s called bad karma … I don’t know what I did to deserve that but that’s what we got,” Green said.

However, with two flicks of his wrist, Kleist sealed the victory. Kleist finished with thirteen points, 3 for 3 from the field and 6 for 7 from the free-throw line.

Junior forward Nick Craggs came off the bench and led the Blugolds in scoring with 20 points, 9 of those coming from beyond the arc. Freshman guard Alex Anderson was the third highest scorer for Eau Claire, coming off the bench and contributing 10 points.

The 1-1 Hamline Pipers take on UW-Whitewater at home on Sunday. The 3-1 Blugolds travel to Oshkosh on Friday for the UW-Oshkosh Classic, taking on Rockford (Ill.) on Friday and St. Mary’s (Minn.) on Saturday. Both games are scheduled to start at 3 p.m.

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