Momentum. That was the word on the lips of Prior Lake coach Jon Miller and his standout forward, Dawson Garcia.
The Lakers suffered some growing pains early this season, but a 71-64 overtime win at previously unbeaten Lakeville South showed where their potential can take them.
“We’ve been through adversity all year,” said Garcia, who poured in a game-high 28 points. “We just found a way to squeak through tonight and it’s good now we’re going to be rolling on momentum.”
Miller, in his first year helming the Lakers, entered the season with one of the state’s top talents at his disposal in the 6-foot-11 senior Garcia, who headed a 25-4 squad in 2018-19. The rest of the roster, though, had plenty of question marks.
“We’re a really young team. We have two guys with varsity experience, and no one else,” Miller said. “We had eight seniors last year; four of them were college basketball players. We had all these underclassmen who didn’t play. I was trying to get these guys working all summer long but you can’t replicate (Class 4A teams) Lakeville, Eden Prairie, Park Center.”
The Lakers, dove into the deep end as far as early scheduling goes. All four of their losses are to top-12 teams, including to No. 1-4A Eden Prairie and No. 2-4A Park Center.
Prior Lake (6-4, 3-1) won the previous five meetings against Lakeville South, No. 10 in the Minnesota Basketball News Class 4A rankings, and asserted itself early on in Friday’s matchup.
A 10-2 opening run helped the Lakers maintain a lead for the entire first half. They showed their athleticism, using a dunk by sophomore Malcolm Jones and an alley-oop layup by Garcia to build a 32-27 halftime deficit.
Avery Mast caught fire from deep to help the Cougars hang around, hitting a trio of threes en route to 11 points at halftime. He finished with a team high 18 points.
Lakeville South (10-1, 3-1) allowed a conference low 47.3 points per game entering the night, and hadn’t allowed an opponent above that mark in its last seven contests.
Prior Lake ended that streak, but it was flummoxed in the second half by South's stifling full court defense.
The Cougars used dribble-drive penetration to get to the rim or hit from deep against the reeling Lakers.
“I told the guys they’ve got to ratchet it up on the defensive end,” Miller said. “Dylan Bair, a senior, jumped the lane, got an easy layup, then we got another turnover. Even though he had two points they might have been the most important points of the game.”
The Cougars took their first lead 41-40 with under 12 minutes to play. They held an advantage for much of the way, until late heroics from Garcia.
Lakeville South missed the front end of 1-and-1 free throws leading 59-57 with under 10 seconds left. Garcia took the rebound and weaved his way down court for the game-tying lay up unmatched by a late heave on the other end.
Double and triple teams forced Garcia to score 15 of his 28 from the foul line and limited his playmaking ability. When given the opportunity to create, he showed why his services are requested by a Big East power.
"Just bring energy," Garcia said of his role in the win. "Let everyone know they’re under my wing and I’m going to do everything to get a loose ball.”
South opened the scoring in overtime to take a 60-59 lead, but it was all Prior Lake from there as the Lakers salted the game away from the foul line and closed on a 12-4 run.
Tyree Ihenacho, Prior Lake's other returning varsity contributor from a year ago, finished with 17 points.
Garcia credited sophomore forward Malcolm Jones in stepping up. He got the Lakers going early with 11 of his 13 points in the first half.
Lakeville South guard Reid Patterson shook off a slow start to score 12 of his 14 points in the second half. Forward Jack Leland also had nine of his 13 points in the second half. Junior forward Riley Mahlman, a University of Wisconsin football commit, scored six points
"Lakeville South is a really good team," Miller said. "Well-coached, they can shoot it, they bring it on defense. It was a classic South Suburban Friday night game."