CROWN POINT | On a night when a national prep sports website honored Crown Point's boys soccer team for its state title at halftime, one of the biggest roars came from a small group of boys in the room beneath the bleachers when most fans were in the parking lot.
The home locker room was a momentary dance party after the Bulldogs boys basketball team held off longtime rival Merrillville to match last season’s entire win total and upend the Pirates for just the second time in the last nine meetings.
“We came in here, and we were all freaking out, just dancing and laughing and screaming; we were ecstatic. It was the greatest feeling I’ve had playing for this team so far,” sophomore Grant Gelon said after Crown Point beat Merrillville 71-60 Friday night in Duneland Athletic Conference action.
Crown Point (5-3, 1-1 DAC) matched last year's win total and snapped a short two-game losing streak.
Gelon hit 4-of-5 from 3-point range and was huge in the third quarter. Crown Point led by as many as 10 in the first half, but Merrillville’s pressure late in the first half narrowed the lead to three at halftime.
“We’re used to Merillville pressure, but we’re not used to this Merrillville team’s pressure,” said Crown Point coach Clint Swan, who admitted that he had to start his scouting report on Merrillville from scratch because of the roster’s complete overhaul since last season.
Out of the break Merrillville (1-9, 0-2) forced ties of 32- and 34-all and even took a 42-40 lead.
Marcel Cherry, who led all scorers with 21 points to go with teammate DJ Wilkins’ 16, stayed blistering hot in the third. Wilkins, too, was streaky and accounted for the 42-40 lead with a 3.
“They came out hot as firecrackers, and the intensity was very high,” Gelon said. “We had trouble holding onto the ball a little bit, but coach got us calmed down, and we came out and played our game.”
Gelon had hit back-to-back treys to put C.P. up 40-34, and his final 3 of the third put the Bulldogs up 43-42. They led the rest of the way.
“Those were big,” Merrillville coach TJ Lux said. “That changed the game.”
Nick Jeffirs matched Gelon’s 16, with eight in the first quarter and six more in the fourth while fighting foul trouble in the middle quarters.
“We knew he was going to be a beast, and he was, but our guys battled and fought hard,” Lux said.
There were 44 fouls called in the game, including a few of the double variety as bodies cascaded to the ground in the paint, perhaps an omen for the imminent DAC wrestling tournament.
“It was very physical,” Gelon said. “It was a DAC game. That’s what we prep for in practice. Our JV comes at us really hard, and we play through it, and that helped us out very much tonight. It was intense.”