MERRILLVILLE — Every time Lake Central tried to put its foot on the scale, Merrillville had a counter weight to add to the other side.
The Indians cut Merrillville’s lead to five points or fewer five separate times in the second half Thursday but never got any closer. The Times No. 6 Pirates beat No. 7 Lake Central 66-56 in a Duneland Athletic Conference meeting Thursday.
“I’m so proud of that. For us it’s been about maintaining a consistent intensity for four quarters. We can go on runs and be streaky,” Merrillville coach T.J. Lux said. “(Indians coach Dave Milausnic) does a great job and we always expect his teams to fight back. We didn’t go away. We kind of took a punch and found an answer.”
In the third quarter, Jaylon Holmes provided most of those answers. He grabbed big rebounds and made big shots — including a couple crowd-pleasing dunks — before fouling out with 2:16 left.
“It was loose balls and tough rebounds and we attacked the basket. We didn’t just settle,” Lux said. “And we took care of the basketball, which was big for us.”
After that, it was Johnny Bernard’s turn to play hero. The senior guard was getting to the bucket and hitting his free throws to seal the victory.
“They look to me to make plays. They look to me to score and I know when I’m playing good, everybody plays good,” Bernard said. “When both (Holmes and I) are going, we’re hard to stop.”
Bernard scored 23 points while Holmes had 16 to go with 10 rebounds, five steals and two blocks.
L.C. (10-8, 1-4) kept things tight early, leading late in the first quarter.
“Credit Merrillville. They did a nice job down the stretch of finding the shots that they wanted,” Milausnic said. “They were intent on attacking the hole and getting some offensive rebounds. Johnny Bernard was exceptional at getting to the rim in the fourth quarter and knocking down his free throws.”
Merrillville (12-7, 4-1) put together an 11-2 run to build a lead that was as big as 10 in the next frame.
The Pirates led 31-23 at the break.
L.C. again closed the gap in the third quarter before Merrillville punched it back up to 11. It was a nine-point game when Holmes was called for a technical after fouling Justin Graciano on a layup.
Graciano made three of four free throws and Lake Central got the ball back. It couldn’t score, though, and the Pirates led 46-40 going into the final eight minutes.
“Defensively, we didn’t do a good job of boxing out,” Milausnic said. “I’ve been awfully proud of our guys boxing out but I think we got a little too excited today and sometimes you get a little impatient defensively and you try and go get the ball too early.”
Merrillville had a 28-17 rebounding advantage.
Graciano had 18 points for Lake Central, while Keon Sellers added 10 and eight rebounds.