Munster-Merrillville battle in friendly rivalry

Munster coach Mike Hackett, left, talks with Merrillville coach T.J. Lux before Saturday night's game.

Steve Hanlon, The Times

MERRILLVILLE — The last thing anyone ever wants to do is get in a free-throw shooting contest with the Munster Mustangs.

But that's what Times No. 1 Merrillville did on its home floor and didn't go as planned.

In a tightly called game where 49 fouls were called and 59 free throws were shot, Munster was money in a dramatic fourth quarter in pulling out a 67-61 win.

"We were 28 of 32 from the free-throw line and that's pretty good," Munster coach Mike Hackett said. "We're shooting 75 percent (from the line) on the season. That's no fluke."

The Mustangs (10-3) led by 10 in the final quarter before the Pirates' press forced some turnovers and a Johnny Bernard layup tied the score and brought the crowd to its feet.

But 16 freebies down the stretch allowed the 'Stangs to avenge a 64-34 loss to the Bucs last season at home.

"We reminded every one of our kids about that before the game," Hackett said. "We wanted our guys to play with some pride. And they did."

Josh Davis led Munster with 17 points. He was also 8 for 8 from the line. His charity tosses were nothing but net, too.

"My team and my coaches believe in me," Davis said. "That slows the game down for me. So I just want up there and knocked them down."

Munster becomes the first Region team to beat the Pirates (9-5), snapping their six-game winning streak.

Jevon Morris scored 15 in the win and was 10 of 12 from the line in the fourth quarter. Tyler Zabrecky added 10.

The Mustangs hit five 3-pointers to the Pirates one. And Hackett said finishing the game even with 26 rebounds was huge.

"This game was a barometer for us," Hackett said. "This lets us know where we are in the area. This is a great win for us."

The Mustangs led 28-27 at the half, a back and forth competition where both teams moved the ball well, shot the ball well and had players make plays at the right time.

Munster ended the first quarter on a 7-0 run to take a three-point lead after the first eight minutes. Davis had seven points in the quarter, nailing a trey along with Nick Fies.

Freshman Luka Balac scored five points off the bench, but hurt his ankle on a drive to the basket that ended his night.

For the Pirates, the top tandem of Bernard and Jaylon Holmes did the most damage in the first half. Bernard had 12 first-half points and Holmes added nine.

Merrillville's Holmes scored 23 and Bernard had 22. The Pirates were 20 of 27 from the free throw stripe.

"Munster did a great job running their stuff and when we made mistakes they got a lot of open looks," Merrillville coach T.J. Lux said. "The tight game against Crown Point (Friday) doesn't matter.

"In the tournament you have to play back-to-back tough games and you have to find a way to win. We'll learn from this."

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Sports reporter

Steve has won awards during two different stints at The Times. In addition to being the Prep Beat columnist, he covers football, boys basketball and boys track. He is a long-suffering Cubs fan.