HAMMOND — A great draw for the IHSAA state tournament had The Times No. 4 Hammond Wildcats pumped for the march toward March.
A colorful Senior Night ceremony occurred before Tuesday night's home game against No. 10 Andrean.
In the first half, Hammond was running and gunning and dunking basketballs. Then, the 59ers decided to pop the balloons.
In the second half, the 59ers big men punched the 'Cats in the gut, getting an ugly 49-42 win.
"We only had seven post touches in the first half," Andrean coach Brad Stangel said after the victory. "At halftime, I told the kids we have to get the ball inside, slow the game down.
"And that's what happened."
Matt Lelito, who had never scored 10 in a game, had 15 points as the 6-foot-5 junior tirelessly worked against Hammond's post defense. Kyle Ross, a 6-6 freshman, had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
And 6-3 junior John Carrothers scored six points, added 10 rebounds and might have lost a pound of sweat battling inside.
It was ugly. But the 59ers (13-7), who had lost five of 10 games, will take it.
The gutsy effort is what is needed in the postseason.
"We had to move the ball around, slow the game down," Lelito said. "A win like this will give us confidence. We didn't play well, but we came together and found a way."
"They were very athletic," he said of the Wildcats. "We were playing their pace in the first half. But we slowed it down in the second half and we came together as a family. That's what you have to do in games like this."
Hammond (15-5) came into the game averaging 73 points a night. But they only scored 15 points in the second half and did not score the Wildcats first points in the fourth quarter until 1:45 remained in the game.
The 40 is a season-low for this usually high-powered offense.
"This is definitely a wake-up call," Hammond coach Larry Moore Jr. said. "We can't just show up and just play. They were tougher than us. They were prepared and we weren't."
Malik Miller and Amiri Young each scored 12, far below their season averages. Manny Anderson scored 10 points in the first half with five rebounds, two steals and three dunks. But he became invisible in the second half, hardly getting any touches as his team turned the ball over over and over again.
Hammond led 27-19 at the half.
"We made a lot of bad decisions," Moore Jr. said. "They did a good job defending but our decision making was bad. They did a good job converting on our mistakes.
"We can't get out-toughed in the sectional. We were out-touched tonight."
Andrean's James Hudson scored 12 points, getting six in the fourth quarter, two more than Hammond, as the guard kept posting up inside, too.
"Our guys stayed the course," Stangel said. "They kept going. We got the ball inside and that was the difference."