MORGAN TWP. — The Keg and an unbeaten record in the Porter County Conference almost got away from Morgan Township on Thursday, and the Cherokees are thankful that close doesn't count.
Kouts' Dillan Matthes' jump shot from the in the lane was short on the rim and time expired during the scramble as the Cherokees hung on to win 50-49, maintaining control of the PCC traveling trophy and improving to 5-0 in the league.
"We figured they would go to Matthes," Morgan coach Eric Braden said. "It was funny. We knew we had (over) 10 fouls, so during the timeout, we told them, don't give them a layup, don't give them a 3, but don't foul. We got lucky on that one. It could've went either way."
The Cherokees (13-5) scored the last six points of the game after facing the night's largest deficit, 49-44, with 1:08 left.
"It was a slugfest, back and forth, back and forth," Braden said.
After two Trevor Braden free throws made it 49-46 with 52 seconds left, Cody Maxwell came up with a steal and converted it in two points at the line at 39.6. Up one, Kouts turned the ball over at midcourt. It hesitated trying to retrieve it as it went over the center line, knowing it was over and back, but Luke Savage eventually ran after the ball and drew a whistle as he drove to the basket.
Savage made both free throws with 21.9 left and after a sequence of timeouts, Kouts (9-9, 3-2) came up short on the final possession.
"We kept the pressure on," Braden said., "I told him on that, play until the whistle blows. If we go after it a little sooner, it's a wide open layup, but Luke came back and hit those after missing a couple early free throws."
Kouts used a 13-4 run to turn a 40-36 deficit into a 49-44 lead on Brent Wireman free throws but lost both Wireman and his brother Cole to fouls in the final minute.
"We made some poor decisions with the ball when we were ahead," Kouts coach Kevin Duzan said. "We've got other guys who can do it, but it's not the same when both of your starting guards are fouled out. We got a great look. That's the shot we wanted at the end, it just didn't go in."
A seesaw first half saw the lead change hands 10 times with the margin never exceeding three points, setting the tone for the entire game.
Trevor Braden scored 17 of Morgan's 24 points in that span, including 10 of its 12 in the opening period.
The trend continued in the third as the teams traded the advantage four times and the margin remained one possession throughout, Morgan taking a 34-32 edge to the fourth.
Braden finished with 28 points, six rebounds and three steals. Maxwell followed with 13 points, hitting all six of his free throws, and Savage had the other nine as only three Cherokees scored.
"We don't tell the other guys, don't shoot," coach Braden said. "Sometimes, it's pretty easy to figure out. They're going to go after Trevor. That's going to open up others. We struggle with their size and I thought Josh Bencie did a nice job on (6-foot-4 Tyler) Heimberg. We just had to keep their bigs working, play defense on them before they catch the ball. If you wait until after, it's too late."
Matthes' dozen points topped Kouts, one more than Brent Wireman, who also made five steals. Heimberg left at 6:49 of the fourth with an apparent ankle injury and didn't return. The Mustangs had 17 turnovers in suffering their seventh single-digit setback.