CHESTERTON | If Merrillville coach T.J. Lux had any doubts about how his team would respond to Saturday's loss to Times No. 1 Munster, the No. 2 Pirates erased them quickly and efficiently in Thursday's Duneland Athletic Conference game.
The Trojans scored the first basket, but it was all Pirates (14-2, 12-0) from there. Attacking on both ends of the court, Merrillville raced to an 18-point halftime lead and coasted to a 64-56 victory.
"We were a little frustrated with how we finished the game last Saturday," Lux said. "We had to get back to basics, to what our identity is, being relentless, and for the first 20, 21 minutes, we did that. One of the things that hurt us (against Munster) was fatigue. We had to make sure the entire bench was ready to go. Everybody was in the game, focused on what we were trying to do."
The Pirates' frenzied pressure contributed to 12 first-half turnovers by the Trojans (9-8, 6-6). Steals and six first-half blocks, four of them by Jelani Pruitt, fueled their transition offense. A Donte Lockwood trey just before the horn sent Merrillville to the break up 36-18.
"We emphasized pressure, keeping the intensity up. That's mainly what we focused on the whole week," B.J. Jenkins said. "We kept fresh bodies in there. If somebody was tired, we let (the coaches) know. We'd put a new person in and (Chesterton was) already tired. It was very important for us to get back on track."
Chesterton didn't put together consecutive baskets until the third quarter. After falling behind by as many as 22, the Trojans scored 10 in a row in the second half and gradually reduced the deficit to as little as five on Jacob Andert's fourth 3 at 61-56 with 19.7 seconds left in the game.
"We fought back. I just thought they were tougher, more determined the first half," Chesterton coach Tom Peller said. "They took us out of what we wanted to do. Their athleticism was impressive. They're real quick and it really got to us. We kind of had that wide-eyed, deer in the headlights look. It's disappointing the way we came out in a big game. We haven't done that since the first or second game."
Lux used 10 players in the first half, seven of whom scored. Pruitt and Darion Williams topped the Pirates with 14 points each. Jenkins scored 13 to go with five assists and three steals.
"After we get a lead, we've got to keep it," Jenkins said. "At crunch time, we have to control ourselves, keep our composure."
Matt Holba scored all 13 of his team-high points in the second half for Chesterton, which has lost three in a row. Andert and Chris Palombizio had 12 each.
Merrillville clinched at least a share of the DAC title with the win.