Lowell travels to Merrillville for boys hoops action

Merrillville coach T.J. Lux watches Saturday night game against Lowell, which the Pirates won in demanding fashion.

Steve Hanlon, The Times

MERRILLVILLE — There was an angry and quiet couple of tables at TGI Friday's on Friday night, with a bunch a young men almost staring at the wall.

The Merrillville Pirates went to break bread with each other after a devastating 57-54 overtime loss to Valparaiso.

The Vikings' Nate Aerts flipped up a 3 that banked in that almost every video showed the shot was taken well after the horn.

"It was emotional. We all knew it wasn't good," Merrillville senior Jalen Holmes said after Saturday's 86-53 win over Lowell. "... We went out together to bond and come together.

"We knew we had to bring it."

Merrillville coach T.J. Lux said everyone in purple was thinking about the Valpo game before Saturday's tipoff.

And as Pirates senior Johnny Bernard said, "We all wanted to come out and put our foot on their neck. We didn't want it to be close and have something like that happen again."

If that was the game plan it was followed to a tee as the Pirates started fast and never stopped the collective effort.

Merrillville had over 20 steals, forced 30 turnovers and played very well against a Red Devils team that battled Munster close on Friday night.

Lux said his program is looking for new pieces after losing three players who were on the roster just a week ago.

"The guys responded perfectly," Lux said. "They were much more relaxed on offense and everyone was getting touches."

The Times No. 6 Pirates (11-7) broke out to a 46-24 lead at the break. Johnny Bernard had 12 points in the first quarter and seven more in the second, along with five steals.

Will Fulton also hit two 3-pointers in the second quarter and Jaylon Holmes did a little bit of everything, scoring nine first-half points with seven rebounds and four assists.

Noah Durr had eight points at the half and Dustin Hudak added seven with Grant Monix scoring six.

Bernard finished with 32 points and seven steals. Holmes had 17 points with 10 rebounds and five assists. Rob Sanders, who was credited by Bernard and Holmes for leading the team past the Valpo heartbreak, scored 13 and Will Fulton had 11.

Lowell coach Joe Delgado knew last summer that this weekend would be one of the toughest his Red Devils would face. A 60-47 loss to Munster at home on Friday was followed by Saturday's game.

"(Friday night) took a lot out of us," Delgado said. "Both mentally and physically. But we're OK with playing two teams like this back to back. This is what happens at sectionals, playing two good teams on Friday and Saturday night.

"We'll learn from it and keep working to get better."

Durr finished with 22 points, which prompted a compliment from Lux.

"He's a really good basketball player," Lux said of Durr. "He's good. He's tall. He's strong. He shoots the ball really well, too."

Hudak finished with 11 and Monix had 10.

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Sports reporter

Steve has won awards during two different stints at The Times. In addition to being the Prep Beat columnist, he covers football, boys basketball and boys track. He is a long-suffering Cubs fan.