Zeke Nnaji (22) pushes through Wayzata defenders Kody Williams (22) and Camden Heide (23). Nnaji scored a game-high 23 points leading the Royals to a 89-63 win over the Trojans. Photo by Cheryl Myers, Courtesy of Hopkins Boys Basketball
For much of Friday’s first half between Wayzata and Hopkins, Royals coach Ken Novak Jr. had one message for sophomore point guard Blaise Beauchamp: get the ball moving.
“Move it, move it,” Novak barked to his team as they got going on offense.
In the end, Novak’s strategy proved effective. Hopkins continued its high-scoring ways as the Royals blew past the Trojans 89-63. It was the second time Hopkins beat its Lake Conference foe this season.
Early on, it appeared Wayzata (14-8, 3-2) had the ingredients to pull off the upset on its home floor. The Trojans came out knocking down three-pointer after three-pointer in the early going, jumping out to an early lead as a result of their hot shooting.
If there’s anyone who knows what it’s like to go toe-to-toe and compete with Hopkins, it’s the Trojans. Wayzata knocked off the Royals in last year’s Class 4A, Section 6 final. And on Jan. 12, the Trojans came close to defeating Hopkins as the Royals came away with a 77-70 win.
But in the first half on Friday, Hopkins stayed the course. The Royals, ranked No. 2 in Class 4A by Minnesota Basketball News, continued to work the ball to their high-powered front court. On defense, Hopkins worked to keep the Trojans out of the paint.
“We were there, but they were just knocking down shots,” said Royals junior forward Zeke Nnaji. “In the huddle, we were just saying we had to stay with what we were doing.”
Hopkins’ front-line features a pair of 6-foot-10 bigs —Nnaji and senior center Joe Hedstrom. The two pose a challenge for any team, but especially Wayzata, given the Trojans don’t have a player on their roster listed above 6-foot-5.
With those two in the middle, the Royals (23-1, 6-0) had no problem scoring on Wayzata. Nnaji had a game-high 23 points, and when he wasn’t scoring, there were others such as junior forward Dane Zimmer, who finished with 19 points.
“We just have great chemistry,” Nnaji said. “Our size is un-guardable. We are able to work with each other. Someone will score, whether it’s inside or outside.”
Though the Trojans used strong outside shooting in the first half, Wayzata struggled to find baskets at any part of the court in the second half. The Trojans made just two three-pointers and had 27 total points in the second half.
“They missed a lot of shots they usually make,” Novak said. “We did defend better though. We did a good job of limiting their second shots tonight.”
While part of the wide margin can be attributed to Wayzata’s offensive attrition, the No. 12-4A Trojans also struggled to crack Hopkins’ interior defense.
“For these guys, it’s about playing hard and understanding what’s going on conceptually,” Novak said. “They have to get the right feel of what we’re trying to do.”
The victory extended the Royals’ winning streak to 23 consecutive games. Hopkins’ lone loss of the season came at the hands of No. 1-4A Cretin-Derham Hall in the season opener on Dec. 2.
Novak was quick to point out after the game the improvement of all of his players, but it’s hard not to notice Nnaji in particular. The junior forward’s offensive ability was on full display for the crowd on Friday, which included University of Minnesota assistant Ben Johnson.
Nnaji will be just one of many Royals players to get looks from college coaches. With all of that talent on the roster, it’s no surprise Novak wants to see more ball movement.
“When someone is open, we have to get them the ball,” Novak said. “Earlier this season, we had a tendency of holding onto the ball too long and not passing enough. The more touches we can get our guys, the happier they are.”
With four players in double figures Friday, it’s easy to assume there are some happy Royals.
Dane Zimmer finished the night with 19 points, doubling his season average of 9.3 points per game as Hopkins rolls past conference rival Wayzata 89-63. Photo by Cheryl Myers, Courtesy of Hopkins Boys Basketball
After a slow start to open Friday’s game, Hopkins hit the gas pedal and rolled over Lake Conference rival Wayzata 89-63 at Wayzata High School.
The Royals, ranked No. 2 in Class 4A by Minnesota Basketball News, got things going in the first half thanks in part to junior forward Zeke Nnaji. The 6-foot-10 post was a thorn in the Trojans’ side all evening on the offensive end. He finished a game-high 23 points, including 13 in the first half.
The Royals (23-1, 6-0) had three other players in double figures on Friday. Junior forward Dane Zimmer, who came in averaging 9.3 points per game, finished with 19 points. Hopkins was also led by sophomore guard Blaise Beauchamp, who had 12 points, and senior guard Anthony Davis, who picked up 10 points despite getting into foul trouble.
Early on, No. 12-4A Wayzata looked poised to pull off the upset as the Trojans (14-8, 3-2) were knocking down shots from the outside. Wayzata knocked down seven three-pointers in the first half.
Trojans senior guard Drew Galinson led the way with four threes in the first half. He finished with a team-best 17 points. Senior guard Luke Paulson finished with 12.
With the win, the Royals have won 23 straight games. They last lost in their season opener to Cretin-Derham Hall, the top-ranked team in Class 4A.
Wayzata's leading scorer Jacob Beeninga (2) scrambles for the loose ball. Beeninga saw limited playing time in the first half due to early foul trouble and was held to just 11 points. Photo by Cheryl Myers, Courtesy of Hopkins Boys Basketball
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