About two-thirds of the way through the second half of Minnehaha Academy’s convincing 78-58 victory over Sierra Canyon (Calif.) at a packed Target Center, Redhawks athletic director Josh Thurow leaned down press row.
“This is the best team in state history now,” Thurow said, referencing a designation made about the team before the season. “Maybe we weren’t at the start of the season, but we are now.”
The attendees Saturday — the crowd was announced as 17,378 — saw the Redhawks fall behind the Trailblazers early but rally behind an effective 2-3 zone defense and a refocused offense.
“We were not going to be able to stop them man-to-man, so we switched to the 2-3 zone, which we haven’t played, even in practice,” Minnehaha coach Lance Johnson said. “It worked.”
With 7-footer Chet Holmgren at the base of that defense, protecting the rim, Sierra Canyon shot just 22 percent in the second half. Holmgren finished one point shy of a triple double with nine points, 10 rebounds and 12 blocks. Jalen Suggs led Minnehaha with 23 points and 12 rebounds. Sophomore Prince Aligbe added 18 points, 14 in the second half, helping the Redhawks (10-2) outscore the Trailblazers 44-24 after halftime. Sierra Canyon, No. 8 in the most recent national high school rankings, fell to 15-2.
While the result added weight to Minnehaha’s reputation, the game was primarily a showcase for high-level basketball.
“Bottom line, I’d trade this for another state championship,” Johnson said. “But it’s hard look at it and say this was just another game. It wasn’t just another game, with 15,000 people out there.”
As soon as Robert Gagliardi found out Saturday’s game was being moved to Target Center, he knew he would be taking his son Matthew, 12, and his friend Jack Burke, 11, to the game.
A dedicated basketball fan, Gagliardi, 42, from Prior Lake, had tried to get tickets to the game when it was still scheduled for Minnehaha Academy. “When tickets went on sale online, it was sold out in like two minutes. When I heard they were moving it to Target Center, I said ‘OK, we can go,’ ” he said.
Matthew and Jack represent a new world of basketball fans who follow players and teams through traditional media outlets but also on social media sites like Instagram and Snapchat. Players like Sierra Canyon’s Bronny James, the son of LeBron James, and Zaire Wade, son of Dwyane Wade, have developed massive national followings. They were as big a draw as Suggs and Holmgren, a fact confirmed by the younger Gagliardi.
“I mostly want to see Jalen Suggs, Chet Holmgren, Bronny James, Wade,” he said. “I want to see if LeBron James or Dwyane Wade are here.”
Kevin Alsteens, better known as the TC Hoops Czar, sees dozens of high school basketball games a season. He has never seen a high school basketball game generate the interest Saturday’s matchup did.
“This is bigger than any state tournament I’ve seen here,” Alsteen said. “This is completely unheard of for anything I’ve ever seen.”
After the game, Matthew Gagliardi and Jack Burke leaned over a railing, hoping to get a glimpse of the players. On the way to the game, Matthew Gagliardi had mentioned this would be “the coolest game I’ve ever been to.”
Did it live up to expectations?
“Yep,” he said. “Cooler.”