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Walton powers Royals to weekend sweep

Feb 10, 2020


Alesha Myers

Regan Merritt, senior, prepares for a free throw attempt against Buffalo. The Royals have a tough schedule ahead of them, facing off with Eden Prairie and Wayzata.

With sections rapidly approaching and a seismic showdown against Eden Prairie coming up this week, the Hopkins Royals boys basketball team (16-4, 6-1 Lake Conference) continued to build momentum after a rocky start to the calendar year this past weekend.

The Royals started off the weekend facing the Bison of Buffalo High School (11-9, 3-5 Lake Conference). The Bison are in the midst of their debut season in the Lake Conference and have proved that they can hang with the conference’s charter members, with a close road win over Edina and a well-fought loss against Wayzata.

Buffalo features one of the most dangerous offensive weapons the state has to offer in the form of lanky senior guard Matthew Willert, who is averaging 27.3 PPG during his senior season and has verbally committed to continuing his scoring skills at St. Cloud State.

Willert and the Bison entered the halftime break with a five-point advantage, but the Royals roared back to take a 15-point lead midway through the second half. Hopkins could not contain Willert’s shooting prowess, however, and the Bison stormed back to tie the game with under a minute left.

Then the crowd was treated to some free basketball. More than some, actually. A lot of free basketball.

The game took two overtime periods to determine the winner and there were plenty of late-game fireworks. After having ball ripped out of his hands by Buffalo sophomore guard Antonio Bluiett during the first overtime, Hopkins senior guard Kerwin Walton flew back to halt the fast break and pinned Bluiett’s layup attempt against the backboard with authority, which was important for ensuring a second overtime.

In the second overtime, Hopkins claimed a six-point lead early. Buffalo had the opportunity to cut the lead to four, but Willert, who had been automatic all night, could not capitalize on a fast break dunk, much to the delight of the Lindbergh Loonies fan section on the other end of the court. Willert’s missed dunk summarized the Bison’s woes during that overtime session, as they were outscored 14-6 and consequently fell 103-95.

Walton finished the contest with 39 points, which is usually enough to take home the honor of the game’s leading scorer, but Willert etched his name into the Buffalo Bison history books with the single-game record of 53 points despite the loss.

Hopkins didn’t have much time to reflect on the double-OT thriller, however, as they had to hit the Lindbergh Center court the next morning, this time against the Totino-Grace Eagles (13-7).

On a sunny Saturday afternoon while many people were beginning preparation for the Sadie Hawkins dance later that night, the Royals had much less trouble fending off the Eagles than they did the night before with a comfortable 74-58 triumph.

While the date may have changed, Walton’s dominance on the court did not, as he improved on his total from the night before by pouring in 42 points, carrying a bulk of the scoring load while leading the Royals to victory.

With the victories on Friday and Saturday, the Royals have established a seven-game winning streak after starting off 2020 with a 2-2 record. In their next bout, they will look to seek revenge against another Eagles team in the form of Eden Prairie (21-0, 8-0 Lake Conference), who are the clear No. 1 team in Minn. Class 4A basketball. 

A win for the Royals would most likely not dethrone Eden Prairie as the No. 1 team in state, but it would give Hopkins the opportunity to share the Lake Conference title or possibly win it outright if Eden Prairie were to lose another game.

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