One of the most highly anticipated games of the season between two of the top boys' basketball teams in the state turned out to be just as good as expected...at least at times. Target Center was the venue, the Minneapolis Conference Clash was the event, and the headliner was the Minneapolis Patrick Henry Patriots vs. the Minneapolis North Polars (there were also girls' and JV games earlier in the day). The Polars had won round one two weeks ago, so the Patriots were looking to save some face in addition to getting a big win.
The game was big, the arena was big, and the crowd was big. And the players definitely seemed to notice. Most were a little too fired up for this one, and that led to a very sloppy and foul-plagued start. These two high powered offenses combined to score just 22 points in the first quarter, with Henry taking a 12-10 lead. The 3-pointers were flying (and usually missing), things were being forced in transition, and the ball was bouncing all over the court. Nerves were certainly the bulk of the problem, but excellent defense by both teams was also a factor.
Henry was the first to snap out of the funk. They used their trademark pressure defense to force a number of turnovers and get some baskets in transition. They also started to penetrate more (and benefited from being in the bonus) and got to the free throw line numerous times as a result. And they also made an effort to consistently work the ball in to 6'7" junior Calvin Walls. Walls delivered with a number of mid-range jumpers and inside finishes and helped lead the Patriots to a 33-23 halftime lead.
The 3rd quarter is when North really picked up the pace, and it's also when the game started looking pretty good. The Polars exploded for 24 points in the quarter while holding the Patriots to 13, which put them on top 47-46 heading into the final quarter. 7'0" (very) big man James Davis caused some problems inside and hit 5 of 6 free throws to help lead the North charge. Walls continued to play strong for Henry, but they took a major hit when point guard Lawrence McKenzie picked up his 3rd and 4th fouls late in the quarter. His was able to convince his coach (who's also his father) to leave him in the game though, and it paid off.
McKenzie was able to play the entire 4th quarter without picking up that 5th foul, and it was his best. He made just one shot from the field, but he got to the line and converted on four attempts. The score stayed close as the end neared, but Henry eventually built and sustained a mid single-digit lead. That's when the game got sloppy again. Just when North had a chance to get back in it, they would throw the ball away or take a bad shot. And just when Henry had a chance to put it away, they would do the same.
It was North who made one-too-many miscues and Henry who made one-too-many big plays though, and the Patriots were able to even the season series. The final score was Henry 68 North 60, although a Henry 3-pointer at the final buzzer inflated that margin of victory just a bit.
Calvin Walls led Henry with 20 points and also did an excellent job on the boards in addition to getting some big shot blocks. Lawrence McKenzie finished with 19 points but had an off shooting night, possibly due to his injured ankle. Steve Neal scored 12 points but also had an off shooting night. Senior guard Walter Powers also scored 12.
North was led by Kammron Taylor's 17 points. Like his Henry counterparts, he too had an off night. Senior Justyn Burgess scored 13 points and was steady throughout. Guard Kevin Henderson scored 11 and had a number of steals. James Davis finished with 10 points, although he made just 2 shots from the field. He was a force on the boards though, grabbing at least a dozen.