MERRILLVILLE | If you asked Merrillville boys basketball coach T.J. Lux about the Pirates' defensive pressure, it was the layups Chesterton got against it that he noticed the most.
If you ask Trojans coach Tom Peller about it, it was the turnovers the Pirates caused that he noticed.
In the end, Chesterton's 15 turnovers outnumbered its easy baskets, and Merrillville prevailed in Saturday's Duneland Athletic Conference opener for both teams, 69-62.
"We didn't execute our press very well, but when we do, we can create havoc and get turnovers," Lux said. "It becomes a challenge with our length and quickness. We made a couple good runs that allowed us to keep them at arm's length most of the game. Like any DAC game, it's going to get ugly at times, but you've got to start with the first one and make sure you protect your home court."
Merrillville (3-0, 1-0) led most of the way after jumping to an eight-point lead in the first quarter, but Chesterton (1-1, 0-1) wasn't the least bit intimidated about get into a track meet with the Pirates.
"There's a fine line there," Peller said. "If we have an advantage, we want them to attack. We just have to learn to stay a little more poised. We can't simulate that (talent) in practice. We battled. We fought back. The turnover situation was the difference in the game. We panicked on some passes. You can't give a team like Merrillville extra possessions."
Sophomores Chris Palombizio (16 points) and Matt Holba (14 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks) kept the Trojans on the Pirates' heels, but Chesterton was unable to get any closer than the final margin in the late going.
"We've got a veteran group," Lux said. "We've got to be able to finish games a little better. Chesterton's a good team. Holba's so active, so big. He's multi-talented. Palombizio's really improved his ball handling so much, he's a more versatile threat, and (Cole) Teal might be their best player. We know they're going to be there at the end."
Jelani Pruitt (eight rebounds) led four Pirates in double figures with 16 points, two more than Zoran Talley. Jake Raspopovich and B.J. Jenkins, both just two weeks removed the football semistate, each booked a dozen. Raspopovich also doled out nine assists.
"They've only really been with us a week-and-a-half," Lux said. "Jake doesn't have to put up 15, 20 points to control a game. He understands who to get the ball to and where to get it to them. It's in his DNA. That's who he is as a player. Who wouldn't want a guy like that?"
Teal added 11 and Corey Rusboldt 10 for Chesterton. Despite the loss, Peller left encouraged that the Trojans, still an underclassmen-dominated team, are going to be competitive night in and night out.
"I can see it," he said. "We're close. We're getting better. I think we're going to be in the upper tier in the conference. We've just got to win a couple like this on the road. We're getting there."