MICHIGAN CITY | If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
Or in the case, the gym.
Down 12 to Chesterton in the middle of the third quarter of Friday's Class 4A Michigan City Sectional, Merrillville cranked the thermostat defensively and the Trojans wilted.
Creating turnovers and open-court chances with their trapping pressure, the Pirates (14-7) erased the deficit in a five minute-span and sprinted away down the stretch to a 71-61 victory.
"You look at our scores, how we play, everything we do starts with defense," Merrillville coach T.J. Lux said. "That's where we get our confidence from. We want to control the tempo with our defense. We played a lot more instinctive basketball in the second half. We gave them a couple different looks to keep them off balance as much as possible."
The host Wolves ran away from outmanned Hobart in the third quarter of the second game, rolling 59-34.
Behind 21 points by surging sophomore Cole Teal, Chesterton (9-13) opened a 45-33 lead in the third quarter, but deficits are nothing new to Merrillville. The Pirates came from 10 down after the break to escape Valpo on Tuesday. They closed the period with six straight and rattled off 14 unanswered early in the fourth, many of them in transition off turnovers.
"We picked it up and it started flowing," said Jelani Pruitt, who scored nine of his 17 points in the final eight minutes. "It feels so good. It shows we can come back on anybody if we've got the effort and desire and come out and work hard. We were very hungry. "
Zoran Talley added nine of 14 points in the final stanza. B.J. Jenkins matched his total and Jalen Wilbert contributed 11 for the Pirates, who outscored Chesterton 32-16 in the fourth.
"When things break down, a lot of times, you see kids go their own directions," Lux said. "What I'm most proud of is they stuck together, offensively and defensively."
The Trojans, who started two freshmen, got 16 points from KeMonte Price and 11 from Matt Holba despite three first-half fouls.
"We have the talent to play at a high level," coach Tom Peller said. "They're pretty confident even as young kids. The difference was the turnovers. Nothing more than that. They turned up the pressure and we took some quick shots in transition. But I'm real proud of these guys. I really believe this is going to pay dividends for us."
Michigan City (12-10) turned a tug of war into a track meet against Hobart (10-12), overwhelming the Brickies with a 25-9 third quarter.
"I think we came out of the locker room a little overconfident, but we made some quick adjustments mentally at halftime," Wolves coach John Boyd said. "We came out in the third quarter and put some pressure on them. Anybody that's watched us the entire year knows the staple of our program is defense. We thought we could force some turnovers."
Taylor Lavery had four 3s and 14 points for M.C. Hobart's Matthew Brown led all scorers with 18 but was a solo act.
"Michigan City came out with more of a sense of purpose in the third quarter and we didn't respond like we needed to," Brickies coach Mike Black said. "More than anything, our defense let us down. We hang our hat on defense and rebounding. Neither of those were as good as they needed to be, and they made us pay."