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Bemidji's Joe Strong takes an off-balance shot against Cloquet defender Mason Brenner in the first half on Friday night. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BOYS BASKETBALL: Inside dominance leads Cloquet past Bemidji

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BEMIDJI -- Thursday night in Grand Rapids Alex Illikainen scored 40 points, continually pestered Bemidji's inside game and led the Thunderhawks to a 60-56 victory over BHS at Grand Rapids.

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Friday night the Lumberjacks faced a similar problem when they battled Cloquet and 6-foot-7 center Adam Laine.

Built like a tight end, Laine dominated the paint on both ends of the court and Cloquet continually employed its oversized weapon.

Laine delivered most of the times as the center scored 29 points to power the visitors to a 61-53 win over the Jacks.

"For the second straight game we had the better team but they had the most dominant player," said Bemidji coach Dan Ninham. "Each night we were facing a talented big man but we had long stretches both Thursday and Friday where we played very good basketball."

Friday against Cloquet the Lumberjacks trailed from the outset but always stayed within striking distance. Laine was Cloquet's go-to guy and when the Jacks needed a bucket they looked to James Hendricks.

And Hendricks usually came through.

During the first half the junior connected on four 3-pointers and his 14 points helped BHS stay within 27-25 at the break. Laine had nine points at intermission, hitting three times from the paint and adding three free throws.

In the second half Cloquet decided that giving the ball to Laine offered the best opportunity to keep Bemidji at bay. The big man scored eight of Cloquet's first 10 second-half points and that streak helped the visitors open a 37-27 advantage.

BHS countered with an 8-0 run as a pair of bombs by Hendricks sandwiched Collin Rutledge's steal and fast-break bucket.

Once again, however, Cloquet found Laine in the paint and he responded with two inside baskets and a free throw to up Cloquet's advantage to 42-35.

Another Cloquet spurt midway through the stanza increased the lead to 50-38 but the Lumberjacks responded with another 8-0 rally, this one beginning with Rutledge's drive and ending with a pair of 3-pointers by Hendricks.

With 1:18 to play Bemidji was within 57-53 but Cloquet was able to preserve the win by hitting four free throws in the final minute while the Lumberjacks were off-target on their shots.

"In the past two nights we played against two very good teams and we kept battling. We kept working," Ninham said. "Because of the way we continued to play hard we can keep our heads up."

BHS (2-15) will be off until Feb. 1 when it hosts Moorhead.

Cloquet (61): Max Brenner 1, 0-2, 3; Gerlach 1, 1-2, 3; Mason Brenner 1, 1-2, 4; Weets 3, 4-8, 10; Johnson 3, 0-0, 7; Bushey 2, 0-0, 5; Laine 12, 5-10, 29. Totals: 23, 11-24, 61

Bemidji (54): Hendricks 9, 0-1, 25; Rutledge 7, 1-5, 15; Rose 0, 0-0, 0; Strong 3, 0-0, 8; Ingalls 0, 0-0, 0; Huseby 0, 0-0, 0; Anderson 1, 0-0, 3; Salander 1, 0-1, 2. Totals: 21, 1-7, 21

3-point FG: Cloquet 4, Bemidji 10 (Hendricks 7, Strong 2, Anderson 1)

Fouls: Cloquet 16, Bemidji 21

Halftime: Cloquet 27, Bemidji 25

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Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

(218) 333-9200
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