GARY | Class 4A No. 2-ranked Munster has had a bull's-eye on its back all season the size of Rhode Island.
Wednesday night, at the West Side Sectional, it was E.C. Central's turn to take a shot at the Mustangs and exact a little revenge, as well.
There was no need for a pregame pep talk from coach Abe Brown, not after that embarrassing 47-29 loss to Munster on Dec. 8 which saw his Cardinals held to the lowest point total in program history.
The rematch was anticipated enough to fill three-quarters of the West Side gym and neither team disappointed as Munster's superior balance paid off for a nervous 55-45 win.
West Side coasted past Highland in the nightcap, 55-34.
“East Chicago is a dangerous team. On any given night, they can beat anybody in the state,” Munster coach Mike Hackett said. “People say, 'Ah, you killed 'em' (before) but that was a long, long time ago and I saw them get better and better.”
With a handful of Division I coaches watching, sophomore Drew Hackett led the Mustangs (23-0) with 20 points. Nate Bubash added 16 to go with a game-high 10 rebounds. Mike Schlotman had 10 points.
Munster led 29-23 at the half and 40-36 entering the fourth quarter.
Sophomore Hyron Edwards' 19 points topped the Cardinals (10-11), who lost to Munster for the eighth consecutive time. Edwards was held to four points in the final period, when his team was outscored 15-9.
The Mustangs finished with 19 turnovers and Mike Hackett knew why.
“It was a battle. We don't play anybody who's that quick with their hands, feet and is so strong. They sped us up a bit and we have to correct that,” Hackett said.
“We prepare for every game like it's our last,” Bubash added. “Last time we played them, they had no offense and were standing around. This time, they had more players step up.”
The nightcap featured two teams with their share of close calls this season -- Highland having lost six games by seven points or less, West Side six games by eight points or less.
But this one was never in doubt as 12 different players scored for the Cougars (12-7), who were led by Arnold Wilson's 10.
Highland (7-15) got a team-high 13 points by A.J. Kowalkowski before he fouled out late.