Eden Prairie trailed Lakeville South by double digits for a healthy portion of Friday night's Lake Conference match-up. However, South could not handle the Eagle full court pressure and the several Cougar turnovers eventually cost them the game. EP's Mitch Hallstrom hit a game winning fade away with less than two seconds remaining on the clock giving his team a 60-58 victory.
After losing a tough game against Apple Valley earlier in the week it looked like Lakeville South was going to bounce back with a nice road win at Eden Prairie. South got contributions from several different players but each seemed to have their own scoring run at different times before falling silent.
Six-foot-7 junior forward Spencer Pankonin showed off his long-range touch with two early field goals and a pair of free throws. His quick seven points helped open the floor for senior Jake Wensmann to come off the bench and score nine quick points. The pair was a big reason South went into the half with a 33 to 26 lead as they combined for 16 of the points.
Then in the second half Pankonin was deeply hurt by foul trouble and was disqualified from the game with more than eight minutes left when he picked up his fifth. After giving his team a nice offensive boost in the first half Wensmann went silent in half number two. With that said, Jake's minutes were so choppy through the game he seemed to have a hard time getting going again.
After scoring only four first half points Alex Richter picked up the production constantly driving, spinning, hanging in the air, squaring to the rim, and finishing. Alex would relentlessly attack the rim as South upheld the lead at around eight or nine points for the meat of the second half. Also chipping in was junior forward Jon Christensen who lived at the foul line. Jon had ten points total but eight of those were on free throws.
South seemed to be cruising to the victory but the Eden Prairie full court pressure froze them. Back in the early minutes of the first half Eagle point guard Brendan Gay stole the basketball twice from the South guards and scored on uncontested lay-ups. But after South went ahead all seemed to be forgotten about the problem with early turnovers. The early problem would become a huge issue late.
Eden Prairie junior shooting guard Grant Soderberg hit two jumpers the second of which allowed the Eagles to start to press. Shortly after Grant's make the Eagles forced a turnover and Soderberg had a lay-in. They forced another and Gay had a lay-in. They forced another and Jack Klukas scored a lay-up. Also within this pressing run Brett Ervin continued his low post dominance.
The Eagles wouldn't have been in the game had it not been for Ervin. Brett scored 12 points in the first half keeping the Eagles close with his power move turning over his right shoulder and hitting jumpers. Then in the second half the Cougars did a good job of sending help to Brett's right side but Ervin's teammates did an even better job of cutting to the rim when South sent extra defenders at Brett. Ervin helped create three scores earlier in the second half with his assists.
Then on the last possession the Eagles went back to Brett. Ervin drove baseline to his left this time but help was coming from all angles. Ervin two-hand overhead passed the ball to Hallstrom standing mid-block on the opposite side of the basket. Hallstrom caught, made contact with a defender, and then hit a fall away jumper giving the Eagles their second victory of this young season.
• When all defensive teams are announced Brendan Gay and Mitch Hallstrom deserve a lot of consideration if they continue to play like they did tonight. Gay had numerous steals darting into passing lanes and there was no one person who was more important pressuring the Cougars full court than Brendan. Also, late in the game South regularly tried to go to Richter for scores but Hallstrom made Alex work for everything he got. In fact, South had trouble getting Richter the ball in the second half when Hallstrom was defending. Problem was that Mitch had to sit down (on the bench) a portion of the second half with foul trouble. Late in the game he came back in to help stop Alex when South went to Richter late for late offense.
Also instrumental was the deep help from Ervin. After watching Richter drive and spin over his left shoulder time and time again the Eagles sent Ervin to stop every Richter drive before he could enter the paint. This double team stopped Richter's scoring production at 18 points and forced others to beat Eden Prairie. Those others did not come through in the late possessions (some had fouled out). Gay finished with eight points and Hallstrom had six including the game winner.
• Grant Soderberg provided a big scoring lift to Ervin and the Eagles. For about 60 percent of the game it looked like it was going to be Brett or nothing. However, Soderberg stepped up his production with 12 important points.
• Ervin finished his night making seven of 16 shot attempts from the field and eight of nine shots from the foul line. He also hit one three-pointer from the top of the key. These scores gave him 23 points, six rebounds, and four assists. The majority of Brett's field goals saw him get good position on the block, receive the ball after giving the guards a good target, turn over his right shoulder bumping off the defense, and jumping to shoot while squaring perfectly. The release looked solid all night long and a couple of the shots were very difficult including a 15-footer on the baseline that had to be perfectly arced to avoid hitting the side of the backboard. In the second half Brett spotted up to hit the three and a clutch baseline jumper from 16 feet off of ball reversals. He was also clutch from the foul line.
• Alex Richter made seven of 12 shot attempts for the game and all four of his free throws. His final totals included 18 points and nine boards. Richter fought hard for his rebounds in traffic and did a grab job of ripping the ball down and clearing defenders. All seven of Alex's field goals came off the drive. Most, if not all of them saw Alex spin over his left shoulder, adjust to where the defense was, and square up to shoot. Sometimes he would have a help defender right in his face but it didn't matter as Alex would finish anyway. The problem became the regularity of the attack. When Eden Prairie had tied the game late or when they had went ahead by a basket South went right to Alex for scoring because they had to, he is their consistent offense. The defense was well instructed on what Alex was going to do plus they had seen it several times. So Alex would drive on Hallstrom and once he got near the paint Ervin came to double, which stopped Richter dead in his tracks.
In the future when Alex becomes more comfortable catching and shooting from the perimeter he's going to be even more dangerous because teams won't be able to help over like this. Another big help would have been a teammate ready to step up and score but Eden Prairie's defense was so good that few of them had the opportunity down the stretch. Of course both Pankonin and Christensen had fouled out long before these late game scoring attempts occurred so that was also a tough blow to the Cougar offensive fire power.
• Eden Prairie is now 2-0 and next faces Eastview on Tuesday. Things get tougher for South who is 0-2 and tomorrow they get number on ranked Benilde-St. Margaret's from class AAA.