As is the case in many of Grand Rapids’ games, Alex Illikainen was a force in the paint on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. His biggest shot of this game, however, took place fifteen feet from the basket, as his free throw with 9.2 seconds remaining proved to be the winning shot in the Thunderhawks’ 74-73 victory over the Forest Lake Rangers.
Grand Rapids, ranked #6 in the latest Minnesota Basketball News Class 3A poll, had a four-point lead at halftime, and looked to put the game out of reach midway through the second half as they stretched the lead to 12. With Illikainen patrolling the paint, Forest Lake determined the best way to cut into the lead was to shoot from outside, and Noah Davis made that decision look brilliant. Davis hit five 3-pointers in the second half as he led the Rangers to within two points with just under a minute to play.
Although Forest Lake utilized the three-point shot to whittle the Thunderhawks’ lead down to two, the Rangers hit a two-point basket- just their fifth of the second half against 10 three-pointers- to even the score. Anthony Tyler rebounded a missed Ranger three-point shot and made the putback layup with 15 seconds remaining to tie the game at 73 and set the stage for Illikainen’s game-winning free throw.
After breaking the Rangers’ full-court pressure, Illikainen was fouled by Davis with 9.2 seconds remaining on a layup attempt. Illikainen was 0-of-3 from the free throw line up to this point, but hit the first to give Grand Rapids a one-point lead. He missed the second, however, and Davis picked up the rebound and took the ball immediately up the floor. With 2 seconds remaining, he launched a 25-foot shot that would’ve given Forest Lake the win, but the shot came off the back of the rim and Grand Rapids emerged with the victory.
Illikainen ended the game with 31 points, while teammate AJ Watland added 18. Sam Smokrovich scored 14 for the Thunderhawks, who shot 18-of-23 from the free throw line as a team. Noah Davis led the way for Forest Lake with 24 points- 21 of which came from 3-point territory- while Matt Degendorfer added 17 and Brock Baumgartner 12. Forest Lake hit 19 three-pointers in the game; they only made seven shots from two-point range. The Rangers only went to the free-throw line three times in the game, making two of them.
The win improved Grand Rapids’ record to 13-3 overall as they and Hermantown continue to race for the #1 seed in Section 7AAA. Forest Lake, who lost their second one-point game in as many days, fell to 5-12 on the season.