TIGER CAGERS UPEND EAGAN 62-54
by Jim Hoey
Buoyed by defensive intensity and an opportunistic offense, the visiting Farmington Tigers took control of a tight game to claim a 62-54 triumph on Tuesday night over the host Eagan Wildcats. FHS led 28-25 at halftime. The Tigers, who have displayed balance on the scoring sheet all season, were led by senior Zach Hedquist who totaled 11 followed by junior forward Miles Mendes, who scored 10 points and also had a team-high eight rebounds. Leading scorer Caden Freetly was held to just seven points (3-10) but had a strong floor game with seven assists and five boards.
“I really liked our intensity tonight,” remarked Farmington head coach Tharen Johnson, whose team won its second-consecutive conference game. “Our guys were talking a lot better than the last couple games and that improved communication is only going to help us going forward. We rebounded the ball well as our guys were getting inside position to give us a lot of extra possessions.”
Indeed, the host Wildcats struggled all game to get open looks and uncontested shots. Eagan shot 39% (19-48) from the field and was just 23% (4-17) from three-point range. FHS had a poor shooting game (22-62 for 35%), including 7-30 from the three-point line. The key to the game was rebounding as the visitors had a 40-28 advantage; the Tigers had 19 offensive rebounds to just nine for head coach Josh Peltier’s club.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well but that happens sometimes on the road,” added Johnson. “The jump shots don’t always travel well but defense and rebounding always do. We had a big lead late in the game and made some very poor turnovers so we have to do a better job of closing out games. When the opposition starts trapping and gambling, we have to move the ball with stronger passes.”
Farmington, with a little more size and a bit more athleticism, was in clear control after intermission. With Johnson playing a nine-man rotation, the fresh players on the court hounded the Wildcats into mistakes. While the Tigers had 17 turnovers to 15 for Eagan, their defense was the difference as they totaled 15 deflections and six steals. Jameson Shrum had five deflections and seven rebounds for the winners.
Early in the second half, the Tigers increased a six-point lead to 13 points in less than a minute. Freetly’s old-fashioned three-point play was quickly followed by Adam Weed’s steal and lay-up. Then, Mendes had a put-back after yet another backcourt turnover by the Wildcats. Zach Hedquist later hit a three-pointer, a lay-up, and two free throws as Farmington took a 14-point lead. Despite some sloppy play late, the Tigers never trailed by less than 10 points the rest of the way.
Johnson remarked, “I liked how everyone contributed to the win. Shrum communicated well on defense and set up guys with some nice assists. Weed also had some nice set ups for teammates and Freetly was strong defensively for us and had a good overall game. Brock Mogenson and Mendes kept a lot of possessions alive with their inside play. Jacob Bormann came in a got some loose balls. Bassett and Jarrett Hunt were a spark for us against the zone knocking down a few shots and Hedquist hit some free throws down the stretch to finish out the game.”
Weed (9), Mogenson (5), Hunt (5), Bormann (4), and Shrum (3) provided offensive support for Johnson’s improving team. The Tigers were 11-16 from the charity stripe while Eagan was 12-16.
In the first half, sophomore guard Gabe Bassett nailed two-pointers and a lay-up in a 1:30 span to break open a close game and give the Tigers a 20-18 lead with five minutes left before intermission as both teams turned the ball over repeatedly and dealt with errant shooting. Bassett had all of his points (8) in the first half. Mendes provided a lay-up and then a dunk in quick succession as Farmington took a three-point lead at the half.
With the victory, Farmington improved to 9-4 overall and 2-3 in South Suburban play. Eagan, meanwhile, fell to 2-10 overall and 1-4 in league action.
Wildcat sophomore guard Jaylen James, Eagan’s leading scorer (12.1 a game) this season, once again led the hosts with 18 points while Ben Kozemzak and Kurt Ohlhues added seven points apiece for the Wildcats.
The Tigers next host the Burnsville Blaze at the FHS gym on Friday, Jan. 19 at 7 p.m. Big challenges await the following week as they face league powers Lakeville North (Jan. 23) and Apple Valley (Jan. 26) on the road.