Even though he admittedly was not at his best, Minnehaha Academy guard Jalen Suggs was still the best player on the court in the Redhawks' 69-52 victory over Minneapolis North in the Class 2A championship game.
It helped that he had the luxury of two of the state's best underclassmen by his side in 7-foot sophomore center Chet Holmgren and athletic 6-4 freshman Prince Aligbe. While Suggs had 20 points and was mostly able to handle North's disruptive defensive style, he was glad he didn't have to do it all by himself as the Redhawks won their third consecutive state title.
"This is a team game," said Suggs, a junior who finished with an uncharacteristic seven turnovers. "I had moments where I wasn't doing my best and these guys kept me up, kept me calm. They did excellent."
Holmgren was a dilemma that the Polars could never solve Saturday at Target Center. He blocked 10 shots, hauled in 14 rebounds and scored 16 points to post a triple-double. Aligbe, with moxie that belies his age, also scored 20 points and added the power and leaping ability to corral loose balls that normally end up in North's quick hands.
"There are people who talk about things I can do better, but in this game, I was focused on the things I could do to help the team," Aligbe said. "Like rebounding aggressively or scoring down low."
North plays defense with a purpose. The Polars' frenetic style is intended to generate offensive mismatches and easy looks at the basket. That became nearly impossible with Holmgren defending the lane. His shot-blocking talents and ability to grab rebounds at the rim stymied North's preferred attack.
"No question the big guy was a factor," North coach Larry McKenzie said. "When we had the opportunity to get into the lane and dish the ball off, he was still there. He changed a lot of shots."
Said Holmgren: "I just try to be there and protect the rim, and I think I did a pretty good job."
Coach Lance Johnson said what stood out with his Redhawks was their composure.
"Today, it was outstanding," Johnson said. "I don't remember anybody whining or getting upset at an official. Their focus was on winning the game."
While the game won't be remembered for aesthetic reasons, the end result — a third championship — was the Redhawks' sole focus.
"I'm ecstatic," Suggs said. "The love and appreciation and gratitude I have for these guys is second to none."