MERRILLVILLE | Before the ball was tipped, Merrillville coach TJ Lux knew this game would be a “great barometer” for the Pirates.
“Last year, we lost this one by 18,” Lux said, referring to a 64-46 loss at No. 2 Andrean. “How much have we closed the gap? How much have we learned? That’s what we need to find out tonight.”
The No. 3 Pirates found out plenty in the latest Battle of Broadway. They forced overtime before the 59ers pulled out a breathtaking 75-74 win behind Nick Davidson’s 26 second-half points.
“We had to come out and press on defense and push the tempo of the game,” Lux said. “Getting our transition game in play was critical to our success.”
The Pirates forced eight Andrean turnovers in the first quarter, including a pair of steals by Jake Raspopovich. The 12 transition points helped Merrillville go on an 8-0 run and take a 22-15 lead after one.
The 59ers changed tactics after the timeout. They kicked the ball back out to the arc, where Daniel Keilman nailed three 3-pointers and a deuce. His hot hand cut the Pirates' lead to two, 37-35, at the half.
In the first half, Davidson was held to only two points in the first half. They came on a pair of free throws with 1:08 left.
Cunningham knew minimizing turnovers would be the key to the game.
“Even though we are an experienced team with nine seniors on varsity, we have had some issues with turnovers this season,” Cunningham said. “We need to take care of the ball if we are going to have success.”
The 59ers changed tactics again in the third, driving the ball inside to Davidson. The senior responded with a monster second half, scoring 23 points, including four clutch free throws to send the game into overtime.
Collin Wojick nailed a trey in OT, then Davidson scored on a pair of jumpers to make it 75-74 with 8.1 seconds left.
The Pirates couldn’t get the ball in position for a clean shot.
“We needed to be able to play a full-court game and not count on half court,” Lux said. “We can’t be one dimensional.”
Andrean coach Carson Cunningham wasn’t worried about his team being off for a week before the tipoff against Merrillville.
“The energy level is always sky high in this rivalry,” Cunningham said. “It doesn’t matter if you played yesterday or last month. When these two teams play, the intensity and adrenalin take over.”
That it did.