The goal for the Prior Lake boys basketball team is to be peaking come playoff time.
Right now, it seems like the Lakers are far from that hope, opening 2022 with three straight South Suburban Conference defeats. Prior Lake fell 95-87 at Farmington Jan. 11 in league action.
The Lakers went into the game off a 66-61 overtime loss at home to Lakeville South Jan. 6 and a 76-57 setback at No. 2-ranked Shakopee Jan. 4.
Prior Lake (4-7 overall, 1-3 in the SSC) struggled to a 4-15 record last year in the COVID-19 shortened campaign. The team didn’t return a ton of varsity experience either.
Senior Malcolm Jones was one player Prior Lake knew it was going to lean on this winter. The 6-foot-8 forward was leading the Lakers through 11 games in scoring and rebounding averaging 18.3 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Senior Eric Dueffert was also averaging in double figures (10.8 points per game) for Prior Lake.
Section 2AAAA is not as loaded as it has been in the previous few years. Shakopee (10-0) and No. 9 Minnetonka (7-2) are the only two ranked teams in the field.
Eden Prairie (5-4), Edina (6-4), Waconia (6-5), Chanhassen (4-4) and Chaska (1-10) are also in the field.
Prior Lake is 1-4 against section squads so far, including losses to Eden Prairie (80-64), Minnetonka (80-66) and Chanhassen (66-62) and a win over Chaska (80-70).
So the Lakers have some work to do before the playoffs start. Quarterfinal play begins March 9 with the semifinals set for March 12. The title game will be March 18, and the higher seed is home throughout the postseason.
Shakopee is the defending champion.
In the loss to the Sabers, Prior Lake was outscored 38-23 in the second half. Jones led the team with 16 points, while Dueffert, senior Kyle Haas and senior Kellan Miller each had 10. Senior Tommy Hjerpe chipped in five points.
Against Lakeville South, the Lakers could not put the Cougars away in the second half getting outscored 31-22 and then 11-6 in overtime.
Jones finished with 23 points to lead the way, while Hjerpe had 10. Junior Luke McCullough scored eight points for Prior Lake, while Miller had six and Dueffert and junior Joey Krouse both scored five.
In the loss to Farmington, both teams scored more than 50 points in the second half. The Tigers led 42-36 at the break.
Jones finished with 28 points to lead Prior Lake, while Dueffert scored 21. Hjerpe was also in double figures with 14 points.
Haas added eight points, while McCullough scored six and Krouse and junior Jamison Lien both had five.
This year’s Class 4A state tournament will be March 21-26 with the site still to be determined. Prior Lake won back-to-back Class AA state championships in 1977 and 1978.
Basketball went to four classes at the start of the 1996-97 season. Prior Lake was placed in Class 3A at that time and then moved up to Class 4A at the start of the 2003-04 school year.
Prior Lake has made the section title game just once as a Class 4A program. That was in 2019 when the Lakers lost 62-45 at home to Eden Prairie.