Hopkins High’s boys basketball team got the worst bounce of the season at the worst possible time, and it led to an 84-82 loss to Lakeville North in the state Class 4A title game March 15 at Target Center.
Drew Stewart of Lakeville North made a three-pointer from the left corner with less than 30 seconds to play to cut Hopkins’ lead to 82-81. Stewart, who was fouled on the shot, missed the free throw that would have given the Panthers a four-point play, but it instantly became a five-point play when the ball bounced high over two Hopkins rebounders, who had inside position. Connor Flack snatched the ball out of the air and hit a five-foot floater to put the Panthers ahead 83-82.
North’s defense forced a jump ball with 7.5 seconds left and gained possession via the arrow. Hopkins had to foul, and Stewart hit one of two.
With a final chance to win, Hopkins was able to get a three-point shot in the air, but it missed the mark, and Lakeville North was the winner, 84-82.
Aside from the bad bounce at the end, Hopkins’ biggest problem was trying to stop Lakeville North’s senior guard, J.P. Macura, who hit 15 of 30 field goals, including five three-pointers. On the final stat sheet, Macura clearly stood out with 43 points.
Kamali Chambers, who played all 36 minutes for Hopkins, had 24 points. Noble Fahnbulleh added 16 and Jacob Wright connected for 15, including four clutch free throws late in the contest.
Both teams were on target all night, as Lakeville South shot 48.4 percent from the field and Hopkins countered by making 50.9 percent of it field goals.
After he consoled his team, Hopkins head coach Kenny Novak Jr. spoke with the media.
“We had this game, and they snatched it out of our hands,” he said. “We really tried, really concentrated, but a couple of mistakes at the end hurt us.”
Novak was asked how his players were taking the close loss in the final game of the year.
“They are stunned more than anything,” he said. “And also a little bit angry. … sad and angry at the same time. In a game like this, you realize it can come down to one bounce.”
Talking about Macura, Novak said, “He’s a great scorer, and their other guys play off him really well.”
Novak went on to talk about life lessons that can be taken from this type of loss.
“Sometimes you learn more from your losses than you learn from your wins,” he said. “Our kids surprised a lot of people this season. They’ll be able to reflect on things like the friendships, the big games they won, and hopefully, what we gave them in terms of knowledge.”
Novak thought the Royals’ 30-2 season was highly successful.
Of course, it is hard when a team comes that close and doesn’t win a championship. But it is very seldom that a high school basketball team wins 30 games in one season.