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Lakeville North senior J.P. Macura, left, and Grand Rapids junior Alex Illikainen battle for position during Lakeville North's 59-36 victory Saturday at the Timberwolves Shootout at Target Center. Photo by Brian W Nelson

"Next guy who shoots a three -- out!"

Lakeville North head coach John Oxton had a game plan in mind to slow down Grand Rapids and 6-foot-10 junior Alex Illikainen. However, launching shots from behind the arc was not how Oxton drew up the Panthers' 59-36 win over the Thunderhawks.

Half of Lakeville North's first half shots were 3-pointers, but a 2-for-15 effort had Oxton rotating his bench players in early and often when he considered possessions to be wasted on poor shot selections.

Despite all the questionable shooting, the Panthers still led 24-15 at halftime thanks to solid defense and good production from senior guard J.P. Macura. Macura shot 6-for-10 from the field in the first half, accumulating 16 points and four rebounds at the break.

Macura, who averages 35 points per game and has committed to play at Xavier, played 14 minutes in the first half, and he isn't fond of spending even a second on the bench: "In my mind, I say to myself I can play the whole game, which sometimes I can do," Macura said. "The coaches think I get a little tired, but I feel like I'm always ready to play."

Lakeville North used the halftime break to fine-tune its game. 

While the Grand Rapids sixth-grade team dazzled the Target Center crowd with a no-ref pick-up game, coach Oxton and the gang were busy putting together a scheme that would lead to a dominant 35-21 second half.

The Panthers played a 2-3 zone for the entirety of the game, limiting Illikainen to just one offensive board, which came off of his own missed free throw attempt. Illikainen, who averages 25.4 points per game and is being recruited by top Division I programs nationwide, finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out, but he also turned the ball over five times.

This isn't Illikainen's first walk in the park, though: "I see zones a lot. It's definitely harder when they are more athletic. It makes it hard to space the floor." 

The zone was a big part of Oxton's gameplan, but not something the team isn't used to executing: "We actually play some zone. We played a little bit more of it today because of the matchup problem with [Illikainen]. He's obviously a very good player. We limited his offensive rebounding, that was big for us."

Lakeville North got a nice contribution from junior forward Connor Flack, producing seven points and 13 rebounds. Alex Reiland finished with the second-most points for the Panthers, putting up eight points.

One aspect of Lakeville North's big second half that can't be ignored is the energy Macura brought to the floor. He finished with 24 points, six rebounds and four steals, but three of those steals came within 90 seconds of each other -- all leading to Macura dunks.

"We did our best to contain him. I thought we did a good job early on," Illikainen said of Macura. Statistically, the Thunderhawks did an excellent job on Macura, holding him to 12.3 points under his season average.

It's not the points Macura is concerned about, though: "Every game -- the win is the most important thing."

-- Nick Allen


Lakeville North's Connor Flack had 13 rebounds in the win over Grand Rapids. Photo by Brian W Nelson

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