MERRILLVILLE | Thanks to injuries and the flu, Portage entered its season finale against Merrillville with five players with extensive varsity experience.
The Pirates, meanwhile, were celebrating 11 from the Class of 2013 on senior night.
Experience easily won out as Merrillville dominated after the first quarter to capture the Duneland Athletic Conference title outright with a 74-44 win over the Indians.
"We just play for each other, this is team ball," said Jelani Pruitt, whose 17 points led Merrillville. "We've been around each other for a while so we know what we're going to do. We're brothers out there, family."
After three 3-pointers highlighted the Portage first quarter, Merrillville turned on the pressure defense and secured the perimeter. The Pirates went on a 15-0 run that tied the game late in the first quarter and took a commanding lead halfway through the second quarter.
As BJ Jenkins added 15 and Zoran Talley had 12 for the Pirates, Jake Raspopovich had five of his team's 22 assists. Merrillville (17-3, 13-1) was credited with 26 field goals and all 14 of the second quarter were accompanied by a corresponding assist.
"The way we shared the basketball, that's the story for us," Merrillville coach TJ Lux said. "When we share the ball and pass the ball, we have good potential."
The Indians (10-12, 3-10) were missing Luke Kizer and Peter Psomadelis to the flu, pulling up three players from the junior varsity for playing time before the sectional games begin next week.
"Some of our top players didn't play, so we knew some of our JV kids were going to have to come off the bench to help us out," Portage coach Rick Snodgrass said. "Their pressure defense, they like to send guys after you, so we got a little tired with depth problems. They have 11 seniors that are very talented. We got some guys some playing time that if they have to come off the bench in the sectional for us, they've played and battled."
Jordan Collazo and Jordan Simpson had 12 points each for the Indians.
Friday marked the official end to the DAC's double-round robin scheduling. Each team will play only once in the regular season next year, in addition to four-team East and West conference tournaments.