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Top games: Moorhead, Buffalo jockey for position in section race

By Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine, 01/16/23, 10:15AM CST


Jan. 21: The Spuds are defending section champs, a title on which the Bison have set their sights.

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.

Moorhead vs. Buffalo

2:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 21

Nate Dahl might have felt a bit of regret as he watched Eden Prairie dismantle Moorhead in the first round of last spring's Class 4A state tournament.

Dahl, a 6-foot-1 senior guard who averages 23 points per game and is recognized as one of the best in his section, and his Buffalo teammates beat Moorhead during the regular season but lost to Brainerd in the Class 4A, Section 8 semifinals and missed out on the chance to play Moorhead again for a trip to Target Center. On Saturday afternoon, Dahl gets that rematch against the Spuds.

Buffalo (9-1, 0-1) starts this week looking to start a new winning streak after seeing its nine-game stretch come to an end with a 59-57 loss to Minnetonka, ranked seventh in Class 4A by the Minnesota Basketball News, on Friday. A tough three-game week for the Bison starts Tuesday at No. 5-4A Eden Prairie.

Dahl no longer has sidekick Antonio Bluiett, who graduated last spring as the Bison's No. 3 career scoring leader. But he does have an improving group of underclassmen at his side now. And the goal for coach Josh Ortmann this season has always been to have players such as Grady Guida, a 6-foot-1 junior averaging 13 points, and Torii Johnson, a 6-foot-3 junior averaging 10 points, at their best by tournament time.

Moorhead (10-2), led by 6-foot-9 senior Adam Jenkins, has won six games in a row. Jenkins, who has committed to Minnesota State-Moorhead, is averaging nearly 21 points a game. He gets help from Colton Hagen (16.2 points) and junior Dylan Zimmerman (14.9 points).

Maple River vs. Hayfield

7:15 p.m., Friday, Jan. 20

The last time Maple River and Hayfield played, it was for the Gopher Conference championship. That title very well could go through both teams again this season, but for now each team simply is trying to get back to its winning ways.

No. 5-2A Maple River (13-2, 4-0) saw its eight-game win streak ended last Thursday with a 42-38 loss to Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial. The Eagles bounced back with a 76-40 victory over Pemberton but Hayfield will be no pushover.

The No. 4-1A Vikings (10-3, 3-1) saw their seven-game win streak end with consecutive losses to No. 1-1A New Life Academy on Jan. 7 and Kenyon-Wanamingo on Jan. 10. Hayfield rebounded with a 75-61 victory over Randolph last Friday and likely will be highly motivated to avenge a 56-51 loss to Maple River in last season's conference championship game.

Vikings seniors Isaac Matti, a versatile 6-foot-1 guard who averages 20 points, six rebounds and five assists, and Ethan Pack (14.9 ppg) helped Hayfield advance to the Class 1A state title game last spring. Zander Jacobson, a 6-foot-4 junior, averages 15 points and 15 rebounds.

Hayden Niebuhr, a 6-foot-7 senior, and point guard Mason Schirmer form the focal point of the Eagles' attack. Both are capable of piling up statistics in a hurry. For example, Niebuhr had 49 points, 14 rebounds, six steals, four blocked shots and three assists in an 89-32 victory over Medford on Dec. 20.

Minnehaha Academy vs. New Life Academy

7 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 21

Erick Reader and Max Briggs guided New Life Academy to a third-place finish at the Class 1A state tournament last spring. The duo could be headed for even bigger things this season.

The Eagles (10-1, 3-1) sit atop the Class 1A rankings and have lost only to No. 4-2A Maranatha Christian Academy this season. Reader, a 6-foot-8 senior, and point guard Briggs are major factors in New Life Academy's success.

Reader, after averaging 13.5 points and nine rebounds a year ago, is averaging 14.7 points and 13.8 rebounds this season. Briggs adds 14.6 points and 4.3 rebounds to go with his 9.5 assists as he leads a balanced attack.

Junior John Kirschling and seniors Colter Stone and Austin Woolf each average around 10 points a game.

But don't expect Minnehaha Academy to be intimidated. The Redhawks (8-4, 3-0) and have size and scoring to match up with the Eagles. Junior guards Jerome Williams (19.7 ppg) and Lorenzo Levy (16.4 ppg) are complemented by Rolyns Aligbe, a 6-foot-9 senior who averages 16 points and eight rebounds.

The Redhawks, too, are no strangers to quality opposition. Minnehaha Academy's losses have come against Class 4A Lakeville South, No. 4-3A Orono, No. 5-2A Maple River and No. 5-3A Mahtomedi.

Other games to keep an eye on

Hopkins vs. Wayzata, 7 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 17. After opening the season with three consecutive losses, Wayzata (7-3, 1-0) has won seven in a row in its quest to get back to the Class 4A state championship game. A young Hopkins squad (11-1, 1-0) will give the Trojans all they can handle in both the Lake Conference and Section 6.

Totino-Grace vs. Pewaukee, Wis., 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 21. One of a handful of interesting games at the Minnesota-Wisconsin border battle in Prescott, Wis., the Eagles, ranked first in Class 3A, will get a look at 6-foot-8 Milan Momcilovic, who passed over the Gophers to sign with Iowa.

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