How do you beat the best big man in Minnesota? How about shooting 20-for-34 from behind the 3-point line? Would that do the trick? Ya think?
Well, it would have been good enough today. But, unfortunately, Forest Lake "only" made 19-of-34 3s and fell to Grand Rapids 74-73 on an Alex Illikainen FT with 0:08 remaining. It was his 31st point of the day on 14-of-20 shooting to go along with 7 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 blocks and an assist.
And, yet, Illikainen was pretty much overshadowed by the best 3-point shooting exhibition I think I've ever seen. Forest Lake hit 19-of-34 3s, 9-of-15 in the 1st half and 10-of-19 in the 2nd, according to my unofficial numbers. 6-6 senior forward Noah Davis was the chief bombardier at 7-of-11, while junior guard Matt Degendorfer was 5-of-10 and senior guard Brock Baumgartner was an unlikely 4-of-4. Sophomore guard Connor Knutson was 2-of-6 and senior guard Wyatt Lawson 1-for-3.
At one time in the 1st half the score was tied at 21-21, and the Rangers' 21 points had all come on 3s (7-of-8 at that point). Its 1st 2-pointer, by Knutson, came at 7:56 of the 1st half. Degendorfer followed with another 2 and then 2 more 3s to close out the 1st half. The Thunderhawks led 35-31 behind Illikainen's 16 points, while Forest Lake had 9 3s and a pair of 2s.
Forest Lake missed its 1st 6 shots of the 2nd half and fell behind 41-31, then trailed 48-36 at 10:58 before regaining the touch. Inside of 9 minutes, the Rangers hit 7-of-8 3s, 5 of them by Davis, but Grand Rapids scored on 12-of-15 possessions, so all those 3s just tied it up at 73. Actually it was a put-back by Anthony Tyler on a missed 3 by Davis at :13 that finally got Forest Lake back to square.
But the Thunderhawks got a long ball to Illikainen against full court pressure. Davis fouled him, and Illikainen made 1-of-2. A Davis 3 clanked off the front of the rim as the final buzzer sounded.
Player of the Day: Illikainen 31 points 7 boards, 3 steals, 3 blocks, 1 assist
Coach of the Day: John Tauer, St. Thomas, who beat 2nd place Augsburg 80-60 to go 15-1 in the MIAC
Honorable Mention: To the genius who put together the match-ups at the MN-WI Border Battle that resulted in (so far) 6 MN wins in 6 games by a average margin of 72-48. (The Apple Valley finale not yet complete.)