With a full week off between games, the Lakes boys basketball team tried a few new things at practice.
One of them worked quite nicely Saturday night against visiting Grant.
Direll Clark, a 5-foot-11 guard who is usually seen hitting 3-pointers and jumpers, could have been mistaken for an old-school, back-to-the-basket center with the way he was moving in the paint.
He worked out with the other big men in practice this week to see if he could use his football player strength to his advantage as a post player.
He was a load in leading Lakes to a 63-54 victory over the Bulldogs, scoring most of his 14 points on strong moves in the paint, complete with plenty of pump fakes and spin moves for good measure.
Clark was one of four Lakes players to score a team-best 14 points on the night. The Eagles, whose last court appearance was last weekend's emotional overtime win over state-ranked North Chicago, got 14 points from Justin Bergeron, Troy Swindle and Jake Kohler as well.
"Working with the big men this week, I was able to get some of their moves," Clark said with a big grin. "I did that a little bit over Christmas, but that's it. I really haven't worked on it since. I like playing guard, but I've got a big body and I can jump high like a big man.
"I don't mind being inside."
The Eagles, who move to 19-6 overall and 10-1 in the Prairie Division, could finish in a tie with North Chicago for first place in the division by closing out division play next week with a win over Vernon Hills. North Chicago would have to win out as well."
"It's exciting for us to be in this position," Lakes coach Chris Snyder said. "It's a good win for us after a week off. Last time we won the division was on Vernon Hills' court so it's kind of funny how this could all work out for us this year."
After scoring just 2 points in the first half, Clark helped Lakes take control of the game in the second half.
The Eagles went up by as many as 15 points in the third quarter by opening with a 7-0 run. Grant didn't score its first points of the quarter until the 4:09 mark and finished with only 8 points overall.
"We were a little slow getting out of the gates, but we had real good second and third quarters," Snyder said. "We did some nice things there.
"And it was nice with Direll getting some matchup problems inside. He's such a big strong kid and with that raw power he's got, he can kind of go through people to finish."
As the Eagles were trying to finish off Grant in the fourth quarter, they got some unexpected push back.
After scoring a total of 17 points over the second and third quarters, the Bulldogs found enough gas in the tank to finish with a big 25-point fourth quarter. They cut their deficit to 6 points a couple of times in the final minutes.
But Lakes closed out with three straight buckets in the paint from Clark.
"I was surprised to see (Clark) in (the paint) so much. He's really tough in there and it's tough to guard him," said Grant senior forward Keion Miller, who scored 15 points. "We finished the game strong, but I think some of our guys may have been a little tired. We came out with a lot of intensity last night and had an emotional win."
Grant, which got a game-high 18 points, including two 3-pointers, from junior guard Ryan Noda, entered this game with none of the rest or practice time that the Eagles got. The Bulldogs were coming off a 1-point victory over Vernon Hills on Friday that wasn't decided until 2.2 seconds remained.
The Bulldogs, which also got 9 points on three 3-pointers from junior guard Mike Burns, are now 12-13 overall and 5-6 in the Prairie Division.
"I know our guys wanted to knock (Lakes) out of the division race. Our guys were striving for that," Grant coach Wayne Bosworth said. "But we just couldn't get it done. We struggled to get shots off in the second and third quarters. But the game came down to their offensive rebounding that led to easy baskets.
"Had we been able to get some of those (rebounds) we were right there with our division champions."