Cheering and clapping could be heard from inside the home locker room of the Eden Prairie boys basketball team Monday night, after their 86-68 win over St. Michael-Albertville.
The win breaks a six-game losing streak for the Eagles, dating back to their 73-57 road loss to the same STMA team on Jan 20.
Monday’s victory over the Knights – their first since defeating Prior Lake on Jan. 18 – comes on the heels of the Eagles’ narrow 81-80 loss to fifth-ranked Buffalo on Friday.
After running the gauntlet of top-ten teams with No. 6 Minnetonka, No. 8 Hopkins and the No. 5 Bison in their last three games, Eden Prairie emerges from their trial-by-fire stretch leaving head coach David Flom cautiously optimistic.
“We’re making strides for sure,” Flom said. “Going back to Friday at Buffalo and taking them to overtime, so we’re making strides here for sure.”
The Eagles were led by youth Monday night in the main gym at Eden Prairie High School. Guard Nolen Anderson, only a freshman, came off the bench to lead all scorers with 23 points in the game, including five three-point shots.
“My teammates were passing me the ball,” Anderson said. “I felt the rhythm so I just kept knocking them down. My teammates hit me, I’ve got their back.”
Anderson, who had 18 points in Friday’s overtime loss to Buffalo, entered Monday’s game shooting 40 percent from three-point range for the season.
“Now, he’s probably 43 or 44 percent.” Flom said. “In his last five games, he’s shooting a little over 60 percent from three and he’s shooting it so comfortably. And he’s taking great shots and we’re getting him the ball in good spots. So he’s been fantastic.”
The Eagles jumped out to a 17-9 lead to start the game, punctuated by the first of Anderson’s five threes with 11:26 remaining in the first half.
Anderson had 12 first-half points. With sophomores Max Lorenson and JJ Sullivan each putting up 13 to lead Eden Prairie, the Eagles’ scoring column was dominated by underclassmen.
“I feel like I’m playing pretty good,” Sullivan said. “It’s nice to have a little bit of a bigger role, especially only as a sophomore.”
The Eagles went on a 15-4 run before halftime. Lorenson’s three-pointer with five seconds left in the half – just as the shot clock was about to expire – gave Eden Prairie a 47-34 lead at the intermission.
Eliminating unforced errors was key for the Eagles, who committed just four turnovers in the first half and only one in the second half.
“Five turnovers for the game for us is outstanding,” Flom said. “Obviously we shot the ball really well. We still have a lot of work to do defensively, but we’re coming along.”
Leading by 11 with 12:08 to play in the game, the Eagles embarked on a 19-5 second-half run, which began with another Anderson three-pointer and concluded with senior Luke Rapp’s put-back for two.
Eden Prairie held a commanding 80-55 lead with 6:29 to play, making room for substitutions and playing time for a number of reserves.
Nine players put up points for the Eagles, with four finishing in double figures. Nolen’s 23 was backed by 17 points from Lorenson, 15 from Sullivan and 11 from Rapp.
“That’s a good formula,” Flom said.
The Eagles’ first win in nearly a month comes at just the right time, as they embark on their stretch run ahead of the section playoffs.
“It felt good, getting back into the win column after a little bit of a rough patch,” Sullivan said. “Especially with the end of the season coming up. And we’re back at home today. So it felt good.”
Eden Prairie won’t have to wait long to test their progress again. They face fourth-ranked Wayzata in their next game on Thursday.
In the five games remaining on the schedule, the Eagles will face two top-ten teams, playing sixth-ranked Minnetonka in the regular season finale.
“We’re feeling pretty good,” Anderson said. “We’re ready to go on a roll. Get back on the win streak again and finish the season strong.”
Thursday’s meeting with the Trojans has a 7 p.m. opening tip at Wayzata High School.
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