Amid a cloud of uncertainty, the Eden Prairie boys basketball team defeated Waconia 102-67 on their home court Tuesday night, capturing their first victory since Eagles head coach David Flom was suspended from coaching the team on Dec. 8.
The school district suspended Flom pending an investigation into a complaint about his use of inappropriate language during a classroom session with the team on Dec. 7.
Assistant coach and assistant activities director Trevor Mbakwe has taken over head coaching duties until the district’s investigation is complete.
Flom was in attendance at Tuesday’s game, sitting directly behind the Eden Prairie bench, six rows up in the stands. He occasionally cheered and clapped for the team throughout the contest.
When asked about the situation regarding his suspension, Flom declined to comment.
EPHS associate principal of student activities Russ Reetz was also at the game but said he could not comment on the situation regarding Flom until the investigation is complete.
Reetz did say he was looking forward to having the situation resolved and was “very proud of the way the players have responded and hung in there.”
When asked how the team has handled the uncertainty of the coaching situation, Mbakwe pointed toward the Eagles’ victory over Waconia as a “good indicator.”
“Obviously, it’s not easy,” Mbakwe said after the game. “But we’re doing our best to stay together and be here and play basketball. They always want to play basketball and I’m here to give them the opportunity.”
Eden Prairie entered Tuesday’s contest ranked third in Class 4A and fourth in the Star Tribune’s Metro Top 10. The Eagles scored 50 first-half points against the Wildcats, leading by as much as 26-8 with 10:45 left to play in the half and holding a 12-point lead at the intermission.
Sophomore Max Lorenson had 18 points in the first half and led all scorers with 23 for the game.
“We came out with a hot start right away,” Lorenson said. “We anticipated, we practiced hard, we knew the matchups very well and we took away their strengths right away.”
Senior Luke Rapp had 13 points. Senior Chiddi Obiazor and sophomore JJ Sullivan each added 10.
The Eagles looked to their bench for a good share of the scoring. Freshman Nolen Anderson hit on three straight three-point shots, giving Eden Prairie an 85-59 lead with 4:30 to play in the second half.
“He’s special,” Mbakwe said of Anderson. “He can shoot the ball. He’s a freshman still learning the game at times, but he’s always coming with a positive attitude and he’s always ready, as you saw tonight.”
Thirteen players put points on the board for the Eagles, building on their lead as the second half wore on.
“We got other players some minutes today and rotated a lot of different players,” Obiazor said. “That’s definitely good for our team.”
As the game drew to a close, junior varsity players took the floor with the Eagles holding a 93-61 advantage with 2:15 remaining on the clock.
Sophomore Nolan Johnson hit from behind the arc and was followed by junior Tyler Nduulu’s three-pointer to bring the Eagles within a basket of breaking the 100-point barrier.
Players on the Eden Prairie bench rose to their feet to cheer on their teammates, hoping for one last score.
Just ahead of the final buzzer, Johnson drained another three-pointer to put the Eagles over the century mark, much to the delight of his teammates.
“We all wanted to break 100 on that one,” Lorenson said. “We were all screaming to shoot it. We wanted to get the JV players in there and then once we hit 100, I went crazy. It was fun.”
With the win, the Eagles improve their record to 3-1, while Waconia drops to 1-4.
Eden Prairie was scheduled to play Thursday night at East Ridge, but that game has been postponed due to weather. The next game on the calendar is Wednesday, Dec. 28, when the Eagles host Chaska.
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