Boys basketball: Merrillville fights off Crown Point
By Ryan Haskell Post-Tribune correspondent December 21, 2012 11:26PM
Merrillville's Darion Williams is fouled driving to the basket during the first quarter against Crown Point on Friday. | Scott R. Brandush~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 23, 2013 6:12AM
CROWN POINT — Zach Plesac looked like he was back at wide receiver on Friday night, completing three perfect alley-oop plays from his basketball quarterback Tom Bardeson in the first half.
Add Nick Jeffirs’ 16 points in the paint in the game’s first 16 minutes and Crown Point looked like a team on the verge of knocking off Duneland Athletic Conference top dog Merrillville on Friday night as it headed into halftime with a seven-point lead.
The Pirates’ ridiculous speed and ability turned things around in the second half, though, as Merrillville won 72-56.
Merrillville outscored the Bulldogs 25-15 in the third quarter and went on a 15-5 run to close out the contest to keep its undefeated conference record intact.
The Pirates (7-1, 5-0) put more pressure on the basketball and sealed up the inside better in the second half as they chipped away at CP’s lead.
“We executed our defense better. We talked about putting pressure on the basketball and we did that,” Merrillville coach TJ Lux said. “Jeffirs had 16 points in the first half and that shouldn’t happen.
“I’m proud of the way we responded. Not just getting the lead but the way we responded after Crown Point got the lead back.”
The Pirates took their first lead of the night in the third quarter when Jelani Pruitt (20 points, 7 rebounds) converted a three-point play with 16.4 seconds left.
The Bulldogs (3-5, 1-4) responded to open the fourth quarter going on a 7-0 run thanks to baskets from Jeffirs (20 points, six rebounds), Noah Burkholder (seven points) and Bret Barclay (five points, seven rebounds).
Zoran Talley (13 points, six rebounds) responded, knocking down a 3 to put his team ahead 61-60. The Pirates never trailed again.
CP coach Clint Swan said his team battled hard but said Merrillville’s style was the difference in the game.
“We quit playing to our strength, which was going inside and attacking the basket,” he said. “I think the second half was sort of indicative of where things went wrong. We needed 16 points from (Jeffirs) in the second half.
“It (didn’t happen) because they didn’t want to throw it to him or they were being selfish; we just started playing the way Merrillville wanted us to play in the second half which means turning the ball over and shooting the ball too quick.”
Merrillville forced 25 CP turnovers and kept the Bulldogs off the free-throw line in the second half. The Pirates, in turn, knocked down 12 more free throws to steal the victory.
Plesac finished with 19 points and four assists, while Bardeson added 11 points, seven assists and three rebounds.) Merrillville’s Jake Raspopovich had 12 points and four assists and BJ Jenkins tallied 11 points and three rebounds.