MERRILLVILLE | To say that Merrillville started slowly against LaPorte in Friday's Duneland Athletic Conference boys basketball game is to equate the tortoise with Rip Van Winkle.
The Pirates didn't catch their defensive fire that helped them to a 10-1 record this season until the 6:18 mark of the fourth quarter.
With a 10-0 run that had bookends of a pair of 3-pointers, Merrillville remained undefeated in the DAC with a 63-52 win over the Slicers.
"We didn't have the intensity on defense," said Zoran Talley, whose 22 points led all scorers. "In a close game, we need that intensity. That (game) wasn't our plan at all."
LaPorte, which fell to the Pirates 92-68 on Dec. 7 in the first half of the DAC season, held a lead as large as five points in the third quarter.
"I'm not going to lie to you. We were embarrassed the first time. As much as we tried to block that out of our memory, we watched that tape this week," LaPorte coach Tom Wells said. "When you get that pride stolen like that ... I thought we were ready to play after being embarrassed. But in our league, you can't play 27 good minutes and win games."
Merrillville looked as it would repeat the first-game performance early as Talley knocked down four 3s in the first half to collect 12 of his team's 24 points.
Called for nine fouls in the first half, the Times No. 3 Pirates backed off of the Slicers as LaPorte (2-10, 0-8) took a pair of 6-0 runs that erased Pirates' leads.
"We just didn't play well. I thought LaPorte played very well," Merrillville coach T.J. Lux said. "We're first place in the conference. We've got to realize every team is going to come in and want to beat us."
Merrillville turned the ball over 10 times in the first half, then forced 16 turnovers in the second half. The Pirates were 7-of-20 from the free-throw line.
"No game in our conference is ever going to be easy, but I was glad with the way we ratcheted up our defense in the fourth quarter," Lux said. "But we need to play with that urgency in every quarter."
B.J. Jenkins added 19 points for the Pirates, hitting five 3s, and Jelani Pruitt had nine points with a game-high seven rebounds.
Gage Ott, playing with an injured ankle, led LaPorte with 16 points, and Josh Fleming chipped in 11 points with four steals and four assists.
"We started off not on our potential," Talley said. "That fourth quarter was us. There was no worry, because we're an experienced team. The sectionals last year, when we got down at halftime by double digits, taught us a lot. We have basically everybody back from that team, so we know what we need to do."