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Top games: Owatonna puts perfect Big 9 Conference season on line against Mankato West

By Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine, 02/20/22, 5:00PM CST


Feb. 24: Huskies big man Evan Dushek is chasing his school's career scoring record, but Scarlet's Mekhi Collins is wary of Dushek's defense.

Photo by SportsEngine

We task our reporters with identifying several intriguing games throughout the state to assemble our Top Games of the Week. The matchups are presented in no particular order, and when there are additional games we want to highlight, we’ll include them with brief notes.

Mankato West vs. Owatonna

7:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 24

Evan Dushek’s place among Owatonna’s all-time greats is already carved in stone. The 6-8 senior is second on the school’s all-time scoring list and has a chance to finish his career on top of that list.

But Dushek’s presence is about more than numbers, and no one knows that better than Mankato West senior Mekhi Collins, who left his team’s 61-44 Jan. 18 loss to the Huskies impressed with Dushek.

"That big guy playing defense sets up the whole thing," Collins said after Dushek dominated the boards in the Huskies' victory.

Collins and his Scarlet teammates meet Dushek and the Huskies again on Thursday at Owatonna less than a week after losing 65-64 to cross-town rival Mankato East.

Dushek, who moved into second place on the school's all-time scoring list on Jan. 31 when he scored 14 points in a 93-43 victory over Albert Lea, has an opportunity to catch Drew Lundberg's (2007) career total of 1,565 points. Dushek had 1,274 points after the Jan. 31 victory.

Teammate Brayden Williams is also moving up the school's scoring list. He scored 30 points against Albert Lea to move into sixth place with 1,140 points, just ahead of 2011 Mr. Basketball Chad Kolander.

Behind Dushek and Williams, the Huskies have won 20 of 22 games, are unbeaten (18-0) in Big 9 Conference play and have climbed to No. 8 in the Feb. 16 Class 4A rankings by Minnesota Basketball News.

Owatonna appears headed for the conference title, but the game has a little more importance for the No. 8-3A Scarlet (16-6, 13-5) after last weekend's loss to Mankato East (15-7, 12-6). Mankato West and Mankato East are in a tight race for second place in the conference standings heading into the season's final weeks.

Columbia Heights vs. Minnehaha Academy

7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 24

Minnehaha Academy has won 11 of 19 games and is ranked fifth in Class 2A. And yet, it feels to onlookers like the Redhawks' season hasn't been an incredible success.

That's somewhat understandable. The Redhawks (11-8, 3-0) won four state championships over the past five years (and likely would have five titles if not for the 2020 state tournament's cancellation) and were a regular stopping point for some of the nation's top basketball schools.

Before the season started, Minnehaha Academy lost one of its best players when Chase Carter opted not to play. Carter, son of former University of Minnesota basketball player Randy Carter, will play football at Michigan State in the fall. A month into the season, the Redhawks lost another of their best players when Mercy Miller transferred to Oak Hill in Virginia. He was averaging 19 points when he left the team.

After the season started, the Redhawks lost four of their first five games. Minnehaha Academy, which dropped back from Class 3A after the departure of Chet Holmgren, was losing games it had become used to winning.

That the Redhawks retained a place in the 2A rankings is a testament to its schedule. Losses have come against No. 1-4A Park Center, No. 6-4A East Ridge, No. 4-4A Minnetonka, No. 5-4A Eastview and No. 2-2A Minneapolis North.

As the season winds closer to tournaments, things are looking up for the Redhawks, who have won six of their last seven games. The lone loss in that stretch was an eight-point decision against Minnetonka. Prince Aligbe, in his fourth year as a starter, is having a stellar season and averaging nearly 29 points a game.

Minnehaha Academy faces another difficult opponent on Thursday when unbeaten Columbia Heights comes to the Redhawks' gym.

The Hylanders (19-0, 11-0) have the kind of high-flying talent Minnehaha Academy filled its bench with the past few years. Terrence Brown and Muja Burton are each averaging around 23 points a game while Donnavin Hinsz controls the inside and Jency Davis runs the offense.

Alexandria vs. Sartell-St. Stephen

7:15 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 24

It was a good news and bad news finish to the 2021 season for Alexandria. The good news: The Cardinal played in the Class 3A state championship game. The bad news: The Cardinal lost by 51 points in the Class 3A state championship game.

A number of players who participated in the 80-29 loss to Minnehaha Academy in last spring's title game are back this season and playing toward another state tournament berth. Alexandria (16-4, 9-2), ranked seventh in Class 3A, is on the right path despite obstacles still in its way.

Perhaps the biggest remaining regular-season hurdle comes Thursday at Sartell-St. Stephen. It's important to mention regular season, because it's likely the teams could meet again in the Class 3A, Section 8 playoffs.

The Sabres (17-5, 9-3) won the first meeting of the teams, winning 62-52 on Jan. 18. Mason Lund, who averages 22 points and nine rebounds, is Sartell-St. Stephen's biggest threat. Evan Templin (13.5 points) and Logan Clark (11.9 points, 6.4 rebounds) provide plenty of support.

Brainerd, a Class 4A team, sits atop the Central Lakes Conference standings and has beaten both teams. But Thursday's game is about preparing for a possible postseason match.

Grayson Grove (13.7 ppg), Kristen Hoskins (13.3 ppg), Erik Hedstrom (11 ppg) and Myles Sansted all played in last spring's 3A championship game. They know the disappointment of losing a big game, and that might be an advantage for the Cardinal on Thursday.

Other games to keep an eye on

Cass Lake-Bena vs. Mahnomen/Waubun, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 24. Mahnomen/Waubun has had a mostly successful season, but a 40-point loss to No. 5-1A Cass Lake-Bena (19-2, 11-2) just before Christmas stands out as a low point. The Thunderbirds (16-4, 7-0) have an opportunity both to earn their first victory against a ranked 1A team this season and measure their season’s progress in this rematch.

Eden Prairie vs. Lakeville North, 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 24. Two teams hovering just outside the Class 4A rankings get an opportunity to toughen up for the tail end of conference races and section playoffs. Eden Prairie (14-9, 7-4) likely welcomes a break from Lake Conference opponents after losing three of its last four games. Lakeville North (16-5, 11-3) will be coming off a tussle with South Suburban Conference-leader Shakopee on Tuesday.

Minnetonka vs. Wayzata, 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 22. No. 4-4A Minnetonka (16-5, 6-3) likely will see No. 3-4A Wayzata (18-4, 9-1) walk away with the Lake Conference championship, but the Skippers have the opportunity to avenge a 72-57 home loss to the Trojans on Jan. 28.

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