North looked to defend its home court against the high powered Apple Valley Eagles in South Suburban Conference play. The Panthers could clinch a probable share of the SSC regular season title with a win, the Eagles could clinch the title outright in a de facto championship game of the regular season
Apple Valley won the opening tip but it was immediately stolen by Bronson Bruneau.The Panthers couldn’t convert the first possession and the Duke commit Tyus Jones opened the scoring in favor of Apple Valley 2-0. The two stars of the game lived up to expectations as after a charge on the Eagles JP Macura opened the scoring for North tying the game. North took an early lead 6-2 and JP Macura was substituted out of the game. This lead to a bad stretch for the Panthers which included a questionable call that went Apple Valley’s way. The Eagles regained the lead 7-6 with 12:45 remaining in the first half. The atmosphere in the North gym was incredible as JP made another jump shot tying the game at 10. The first half was really the two Goliath’s in JP and Tyus duking it out. Tyus made a deep three putting the Eagles up 15-12 with 8 minutes left in the half. Connor Flack one of only 2 scorers for North in the first half answered with an easy 2 point layup. With Apple Valley up 18-14 they had quieted the gym and swung the momentum in their favor. Head Coach Oxton of Lakeville North called a timeout to stem the tide. With just under 6 minutes left in the half JP again hit a fadeaway jump shot to cut the AV lead in half. Carl Engwall committed a foul on 6-10 Sophomore Brock Bertram who made the layup. He converted on the additional free throw to widen the Eagle lead to 23-16. JP answered that 3 point play with his own shrinking the lead to just 4. With just 57 seconds left Macura hit another 3 to make the Apple Valley lead 27-23. Apple valley missed on the next possession and North would get the last shot of the half. Connor Flack missed the long three but JP secured the rebound and was fouled. Macura made both free throws and left Apple Valley with only a 2 point lead going into halftime.
Coming out of halftime the Eagles took the early momentum scoring the first 4 points. Connor Flack ended the mini run with a putback to make the score 31-27 Apple Valley.Gary Trent Jr. had a huge impact on the game especially in the second half for the Eagles. He stretched their lead to 7 after converting a 3 point play. JP Macura answered back with an authoritative drive making the score 34-29. Bronson Bruneau hit a clutch 3 for North with 12:37 left to bring the game to within 1. With Apple Valley up 3, Connor Flack hit a 3 with exactly 8 minutes left to tie the game and send the crowd into a frenzy. The atmosphere would not be too much for wily veteran Jones as he cooly sank an elbow jumper to put the Eagles back up by 2. JP also got involved in the passing game finding Bruneau with 6:33 left making the score 42-40 Eagles. The action on the court was fast paced and high flying with Bruneau stepping up big on the defensive end drawing multiple charges as the game wore down. Both fan sections booed and hissed as fouls went one way or the other. The second half felt like a bit of a ballet with players from both teams drastically emphasizing their behavior in order to get fouls called on the other team. The gym was rocking as the momentum swung from one side to the other. Jones took over the game in the late stages for Apple Valley widening their lead to 47-40. The gap seemed almost insurmountable but North fought back first with a 3 point play by Carl Engwall working hard in the low block. Drew Stewart made the gym erupt when he drew a charge on Jones. JP feeding off the energy drove the lane with a vengeance and was fouled. JP sank both free throws. Apple Valley then fouled North in the backcourt allowing them to tie the game at 47 with 3:33 left. Tyus Jones forced the issue inside but was called again for a charge. Apple Valley appeared to be unraveling as North was picking up steam. With 1:43 left North gained possession off of a jump ball and would hold for the last shot despite heavy pressure by the Eagle D. North settled for a long 3 point attempt that clanked off the rim with 6.6 seconds left. Apple Valley called a timeout presumably to draw up a play for the number 3 recruit Tyus Jones. The crowd got what they wanted when it became clear JP was covering Jones at the end of the game. Coach Oxton said he thought JP on Tyus “gave us the best chance to win.” The fans held their breath as Jones drove the length of the court and jump stopped making JP skid by. Jones was unable to make the pullup jumper however as the shot rolled out and time expired on regulation.
Tyus would set the tone early in the overtime converting a 3 point play off a smooth drive.North settled for a few bad shots on the offensive end and the Eagles extended their lead to 55-47. All hope seemed lost for North when with 1:55 Tyus Jones violently flailed his arms and drew the foul. However he was unable to make either free throw and Calven Pesola gave the Panthers a small ray of hope by hitting a needed 3 point shot. North stepped up their defense as the raucous crowd stepped up its cheering forcing a turnover and a breakaway score for JP. The defense was unrelenting as North forced another turnover leading to an easy Stewart basket making the Apple Valley lead 55-54. Unfortunately things drastically changed for North when Apple Valley broke the pressure with 36 seconds left and Pescola was called for an Intentional foul. This gave Apple Valley 2 free throws and the ball and took all the wind out of the North sails. Connor Flack added two points but it was too little too late as the Panthers fell to the Eagles 59-56 in front of a wild home crowd.
Coach Oxton told me after the game that “there were a lot of positives to take away, obviously they (Apple Valley) had been crushing everybody, nobody had even given them a game and we had them on the ropes and could have won. We had the ball at the end of regulation with a tie score to win and we didn’t get it done and that’s frustrating.”
Apple Valley Eagles 59 v Lakeville North Panthers 56
JP Macura 27
Connor Flack 17
Bronson Bruneau 6
Tyus Jones 25
Brock Bertram 9
Gary Trent Jr. 7