MERRILLVILLE | Friday night’s regular season finale between Lowell and host Merrillville came down to the wire – three times.
In double-overtime, the Times No. 8 Red Devils forced two contested shots at the buzzer to secure a 41-39 win. Zach VanHook led Lowell (16-4) with a game-high 22 points and Eric Zukauskas added 15.
As time ran down in the second overtime period, Lowell forced a long 3-point attempt by Merrillville’s D.J. Wilkins and VanHook rejected a putback attempt just before time expired.
“We were just trying to stay in front of Wilkins,” Red Devils coach Nate Richie said. “We wanted to keep the ball in front of us a force a jumpshot. Outside of that, there wasn’t a whole lot more that we were trying to really do. I thought the guys did that; they stayed down and forced a jumpshot.”
Richie was happy with his team’s tenacity on the final play after a long back-and-forth game. VanHook’s block on the final shot attempt is something Richie couldn’t have expected the entire season.
“We were active enough to get back (to defensive assignments after the offensive rebound). There was a time when our guys would have … ball watched; they would have just stopped and watched,” Richie said. “They kept playing, so that’s a good sign for our team.”
VanHook tied the game 35-35 with a pair of free throws late in the fourth quarter. After a traveling call against Merrillville with :8.1 left on the clock, Lowell missed a contested layup at the buzzer.
The teams combined for just four points in the first overtime period, with the Red Devils missing another contested layup at the buzzer. At the end of the second overtime, Lowell came out on top of yet another physical play underneath the basket.
“As coaches, all we want is consistency. You probably could have called (a foul) on all three (plays),” Richie said, “But all three were consistent, which is all that we can ask for. It was a good game.”
It was Lowell’s second overtime win of the season, including a 43-41 victory on Dec. 17 at Portage. Merrillville had not gone to overtime before Friday night, but nearly came away with what would have been just its fifth win of the season. The Pirates (4-15) were led by 19 points from Wilkins.
“I guess that’s basketball, right? Roll with the punches,” Richie said. “Those kind of games are a lot of fun for the kids. They’re a lot more, I think, stressful on us coaches than they are on the kids. I thought we did a good job adapting to whatever Merrillville was doing. That’s what we had to do. Merrillville played a great game; they shot the heck out of the ball. Hats off to them.”