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Boys basketball: Merrillville football players Jenkins, Raspopovich come up huge in DAC win

Merrillville senior Jelani Pruitt puts up shot over Valparaiso senior QuentPalmer during their DunelConference matchup Merrillville HIgh School Friday December

Merrillville senior Jelani Pruitt puts up a shot over Valparaiso senior Quentin Palmer during their Duneland Conference matchup at Merrillville HIgh School Friday, December 28, 2012, in Merrillville, Ind. | Scott M. Bort~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 30, 2013 6:11AM



MERRILLVILLE — Valparaiso had just taken its only lead of the game late in the second quarter when Merrillville’s Jake Raspopovich found the ball in his hands for the last possession.

The Pirates senior point guard assessed his options during Friday night’s big Duneland Athletic Conference matchup at Merrillville and opted to pull up for a long 3-pointer. It was a good choice.

Raspopovich drilled the shot, gave Merrillville the lead at the half and the Pirates made it stand up during a 68-57 victory. Merrillville (8-1, 6-0 DAC) didn’t cruise to the win, but did pick up the defensive intensity and frustrate the Vikings (7-2, 4-2) into an ugly 10-for-25 (40 percent) shooting performance in the second half.

“We play a bunch of different defenses and we went with more man-to-man in the second half,” said Merrillville coach T.J. Lux, who wasn’t pleased with his team’s own 16 turnovers. “Our guys did an excellent job of pressing the passing lanes and I think we made their offense a little more uncomfortable. They were running their offense a little further from the basket than they would’ve liked.”

Valparaiso coach Joe Otis saw it the same way.

“We played so hard on defense that our legs (were gone),” the veteran Vikings coach said. “We warned that we weren’t going to be able to live out there on the arc and we never did get it inside, where we’re pretty good. We did a little bit, but it was so rare that we couldn’t get them in foul trouble.”

In the first half, after watching Merrillville race out to an 8-0 lead to start the game, Valparaiso fought its way back with hot shooting.

The Vikings shot 14-for-23 (60.8 percent) from the floor in the first two quarters, including 5-of-7 from the 3-point line.

The second half was a different story. Valparaiso hit just one of the nine 3s the Vikings hoisted up — with a couple missing the basket support entirely. The Vikes did cut the Pirates lead to 54-48 with 4:53 left in the fourth on a bucket by Brody Wilson (11 points), but Merrillville didn’t cave. The Pirates just pushed their lead back up to double digits on a pair of baskets by Zoran Talley (12 points, 8 rebounds) and B.J. Jenkins — who led all scorers with 22 points.

“I thought the game really came down to that situation with four or five minutes to go and we were down six,” Otis said. “They pushed it to 10. They’re just more explosive than we are. We’re the steady guys and they’re the thoroughbreds. They have great athleticism. They’re long and they come after you. They do great job of it.”

Lux, however, would like his team to be a little more judicious on defense.

“We do force some turnovers, but our guys tend to get so greedy,” Lux said. “We lunge after steals so much and we get out of position. We give up so many easy layups because we get so out of position. We have to be more disciplined.”

Jenkins agreed.

“We’ve got to anticipate better and have more intensity,” said Jenkins, a slick-shooting senior. “We’re a senior team, so all of us know when to calm down and stop doing all the risky stuff.”



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