Prep boys basketball: Battle-tested East downs Hibbing

Greyhounds respond well after losing two games to top-ranked Minnehaha Academy.

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From left: Hibbing's Jack Grzybowsk (10), Duluth East's Cam Oliphant (11) and Hibbing's Hayden Verhel (2) scramble after the ball in the first half Friday, Jan. 29, at Duluth East. (Tyler Schank /

Duluth East didn’t want to lose to Minnehaha Academy three times in one week.

After losing twice to the top-ranked Class AAA boys basketball team in a five-day span, the Greyhounds made sure to learn from their previous mistakes against Hibbing on Friday night at East High School.

Noah Paulson dominated inside with 24 points and the Greyhounds shut down key elements of Hibbing’s offense in a 73-61 victory.

“We had to take advantage of it in this game,” Paulson said of the home-and-home games against Minnehaha Academy. “If we came out and played like we hadn’t played Minnehaha two games in a row, it would have been a waste. I’m happy with our win here.”

East lost by 41 and 28 points to the three-time defending state champions.


“Even when you lose to them by 20 or 40, you learn more from that game than when you beat a team by 25,” East coach Rhett McDonald said. “We learned unbelievable lessons and our weaknesses were exposed.”

One benefit East learned while going up against Minnehaha’s 7-foot-1 Chet Holmgren is that size matters. So the Greyhounds (3-2) used their noticeable height advantage inside with the 6-8 senior Paulson against the fifth-ranked Bluejackets (3-1).

Paulson scored East’s first three baskets of the first half and the first two of the second half to establish his presence.

“Really good things happen when he touches the ball,” McDonald said. “He gets respect from these other teams. Even last year when he wasn’t lighting up the stat sheet, he would always get two to three guys to guard him. And he’s always involved in these hockey assists. Absolutely the key was to throw it inside.”

Paulson had at least a couple of inches on Hibbing’s Parker Maki and was able to set up down low to either spin to the hoop, put up a soft hook or kick the ball outside.

“It’s nice when the coaches tell the guys to throw it inside to me,” Paulson said. “We had the size advantage, so we threw it in. If they doubled me, I threw it outside to (Giovani Saldivar) and he had a nice night.”

Saldivar hit a trio of 3-pointers and finished with 12 points. Senior Mattie Thompson, who will join Paulson at Minnesota Duluth next season, added 18 points in a workmanlike performance.

“Our effort and how hard we work has been really good in the last couple weeks,” McDonald said. “It doesn’t always look pretty but when you work hard for 36 minutes, you are always going to give yourself a chance to win.”


Hibbing came out lethargic and only Mayson Brown’s outside shooting prowess kept the Bluejackets in the game, trailing only 33-30 at halftime. Brown, a senior guard, finished with 24 points and a half-dozen 3-pointers.

“We had some threes that were ridiculously deep and we were fortunate they were going in,” said Hibbing coach Joel McDonald, Rhett’s uncle. “When you are banking on that to keep you close, you are rolling the dice and playing with fire.”

Junior Ayden McDonald, Joel’s son who netted a career-high 41 in a game earlier this season, was held to five first-half points and 15 for the game. Though they fought back to within one point on one occasion and within three points on three occasions in the second half, Hibbing never got over the hump.

“There were times when we were a step late, and on our rotations we were out of position,” Joel McDonald said. “They came off two tough games against Minnehaha so they are battle tested, and we haven’t seen that until this game. I don’t think we responded all that well.”

Hibbing 30-31—61

Duluth East 33-40—73

Hibbing — Mayson Brown 24, Tre Holmes 14, Parker Maki 8, Ayden McDonald 15. Totals 20 10-12 61.

3-point goals — Brown 6, Holmes 3, McDonald 2.


Duluth East — Zaa Buffalo 11, Giovani Saldivar 12, Michael Kastelic 6, Mattie Thompson 18, Noah Paulson 24, Luke Lieberz 2. Totals 28 10-15 73.

3-point goals — Buffalo, Saldivar 3, Kastelic 2, Thompson.

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