Playing stifling defense that shut down Maple Grove's all-metro guard Brad Davison and 6-10 center Reed Nikko, and with a confidence stemming from repeated state tournament appearances, Lakeville North controlled the Crimson from the outset en route to a 60-49 victory in the quarterfinals of the boys' basketball Class 4A state tournament.
The Panthers advanced to the semifinals for the fourth time in the past five years.
"Our older guys have seen this before and the younger guys, they just seem to follow along," said Lakeville North coach John Oxton, referring to the Panthers' five consecutive tournament appearance. "They don't get riled up. I was really proud of how our guys played today."
The plan for Lakeville North (25-5) was to attack Nikko on the defensive end and hope guard Nick Fossey could handle Davison. That strategy worked perfectly. Nikko spent much of the game in foul trouble and eventually fouled out with just six points and five rebounds.
"We wanted to go right at him and, while a couple of the fouls they called were kind of goofy, we were fortunate get him in foul trouble," Oxton said. "And I can't say enough about the job Fossey did on Davison."
Without Nikko, it was left to Davison to try to carry the offense for Maple Grove (25-5). But Lake-ville North's defensive pressure kept him from getting in any sort of groove. He finished with 18 points, but he made just three of 18 shots from the field.
"Lakeville North, give them a lot of credit," Davison said. "They really shut off our driving lanes and we just weren't hitting our shots. It was a really frustrating game."
While Lakeville North's defense was making life difficult for its opponent, the Panthers were benefiting from a cadre of all-around athletes who are used to performing on big stages. Nathan Reuvers, a 6-10 junior forward who has been the object of plenty of Division I interest (including a recent offer from Wisconsin), is the offensive centerpiece. But players such as Fossey, David Lindstrand and Drew Stewart are calm, experienced pieces of the puzzle.
"It helps, definitely," said Fossey, who has signed to play wide receiver at Northern Iowa. "We're in shape all year long and it helps with chemistry. We're a close-knit group."
Reuvers led Lakeville North with 19 points while Fossey and Carter Brooks added 11.
"We didn't shoot the ball that well," Reuvers said. "It helps to have guys who are experienced and don't get nervous."