Before the start of the season, it was suggested that Minnehaha Academy, and all its stars, just might be the best high school basketball team in Minnesota history.
Instead of running away from this label, the Redhawks tried to make it stick.
Unfazed by losses to 4A teams Cretin-Derham Hall and Hopkins, Minnehaha, ranked No. 1 in Class 3A, rattled off 16 consecutive wins.
On Tuesday, Feb. 11, they would face their toughest test yet, an undefeated Eden Prairie team that was ranked No. 1 in Class 4A.
A win over the Eagles wouldn’t answer the “best ever” question, but it would add fuel to the fire.
A loss mutes the discussion.
Fans purchased tickets for Tuesday’s game hours in advance. To accommodate demand, the school set up an additional 350 seats in an auxiliary gym next to the main gym.
Eden Prairie coach David Flom said there was more hype to Tuesday’s game than any game he’d ever been part of.
Minnehaha opened with 11-5 and 23-12 leads.
Offensively, Eden Prairie was struggling.
Blame 5-star recruit Chet Holmgren.
“He changes every shot,” said Flom.
This includes shots you don’t even attempt to take. Not only does Holmgren get in heads, he stays there.
Still, or will, Eden Prairie is a tough out.
A pair of baskets by John Henry pulled Eden Prairie to within seven (25-18).
At halftime, Eden Prairie trailed 31-25.
“We had issues with their defensive intensity, pressure and length,” said Flom, “but by the end of the half, we started to adjust. Considering the way we started, we were pleased to only be down by six.
“The plan,” he added, “was to keep it close and out-tough them at the end.”
Henry opened the second half on a three spree.
In no time, 25-31 became 34-36.
With seven minutes to go, Eden Prairie trailed 58-54.
With six minutes to go, Will Foster drove the lane and knotted the game at 59-59.
Back-to-back Henry baskets put the Eagles out in front 63-59.
“I re-watched the game without taking notes,” said Flom. “The way we played after we tied it was a blast to watch.”
Eden Prairie never looked back.
Offensively, Eden Prairie was feeling it. Defensively, Eden Prairie was dishing it (Minnehaha went nearly 10 minutes with just one basket).
In what appeared to be a head scratcher, it bears mentioning that Foster, Eden Prairie’s shortest starter at 6-1, guarded the 7-foot Holmgren.
“When we played them last year,” said Flom, “he posted up zero times. We treated him like a guard and Will is a tough defender.
“Holmgren had only five shot attempts all game,” he added. “Will did a great job.”
Holmgren finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Connor Christensen, who many see as Eden Prairie’s best defender, was tasked with guarding 6-6 sophomore Prince Aligbe.
Aligbe, who already has more than a dozen DI offers, counted six points.
In a combination of offense/defense, Eden Prairie finished on a 30-7 run.
Tough? You bet.
Final score: Eden Prairie 78, Minnehaha Academy 64.
Henry led all scorers with 29 points. His line included seven made three-pointers. Drake Dobbs finished with 20 points, Austin Andrews 17, Christensen 10.
Jalen Suggs led Minnehaha with 23 points. Hercy Miller added 19.
Eden Prairie’s “best ever” effort lifted its overall record to 24-0.
New ‘best ever’
Question: Did Tuesday’s win flip the narrative? Are the Eagles the best team in Minnesota history?
“If we win it all and go undefeated, we can have that conversation at the end of the season,” said Flom. “Until then, we’ll focus on our next game.
“Our approach won’t change,” he added, “as we’ll look to go 1-0.”
Eden Prairie ran its overall record to 25-0 on Friday, with a 103-66 win over Saint Michael-Albertville. Henry led Eden Prairie with 32 points. Dobbs added 19, Andrews and Christensen 11 apiece.
Eden Prairie ends its regular season on Friday with an away game at Minnetonka.
On Saturday, Eden Prairie will be awarded Section 2-4A’s top seed. Eden Prairie will host a section quarterfinal game on Wednesday, March 4. The highest seed hosts throughout the tournament.