Entering the boys state basketball tournament as the north division’s number four seed, Maple Grove was already used to being counted out and penciled past in brackets.
After beating top-seeded Champlin Park, however, they put the basketball community on notice. But with a semifinal match up with Cretin-Derham Hall next up on April 8, they had no problem messing up people’s expectations even more.
The presumptions of this team fell squarely on how they ended the regular season, dropping two straight games, including a 13-point home loss to then 4-11 Elk River.
Questions surfaced as to the likelihood of another section crown, but all the Crimson did was what they have done the past six years: hit their stride in the postseason.
Wins against Rogers, Elk River, and Moorhead cemented a sixth-consecutive section title, and then the upset that echoed throughout the state.
But with that game quickly in the past, the Raiders presented another challenge that the Crimson had to prepare for.
Even though these two teams rarely play each other, several players are no strangers to one another. Crimson junior guard Jon Haakenson, junior forward Payton Mogire, and standout guard Tre Holloman all play together on the Howard Pulley AAU team and know each other’s playing styles well.
But knowing and containing are two separate things. Hollomon, averaging 20.4 points per game on the season, has given teams fits defensively, but the Crimson seemed up for the test. They previously held Champlin Park senior guard Joshua Strong, who averaged 19.7 points per game, to eight when they beat the Rebels last week.
Early on, however, the Crimson would be tested in a way that the Rebels didn’t throw their way. Cretin-Derham Hall began the April 8 game with the sole intention of keeping Maple Grove on the perimeter and not the inside. By doing that, the Crimson were forced into tough shots or turnovers, making it look like they were swimming in molasses offensively.
The ball pressure put on Maple Grove and a nose for every rebound gave the Raiders a cushion of a lead, which ballooned to 15, and eventually stretched to 19 in the late stages of the frame.
All that came with Holloman and Haakenson both picking up two early fouls that saw them sitting for the majority of the half, yet it was the Raiders who didn’t miss a beat with their star guard out.
By halftime, the Raiders held a 29-16 lead.
All year, the Crimson were not identified by what they did when the game was going easy for them. Instead, it came from when their backs were against the wall. And in the final 18 minutes, they were doing a proverbial wall-sit.
With no consistent offensive momentum, Maple Grove was exerting effort to merely keep the game status quo and couldn’t get the deficit under double digits.
Missed free throws and untimely turnovers plagued the Crimson, while Holloman and the Raiders seemed comfortably in control. Capped off by a thunderous dunk from the star junior, Cretin-Derham Hall marched on to the state title game with a 54-42 win.
Holloman led all scorers with 18 points and Haakenson paced the Crimson with 11.
The Raiders face the winner of Shakopee and Wayzata for the state championship Saturday nigh, April 10.