CROWN POINT | This is the final season of the Duneland Athletic Conference round-robin and you can expect the confetti to fly and party horns to screech when it's history.
Take Friday night's DAC game between Times' No. 2 Merrillville and young Crown Point. Two teams with great potential as the season unfolds.
But nine of the Bulldogs' first 12 games are DAC dates; as are 11 of the Pirates' first 14 games. It's the same grind for the entire league.
So as heartbreaks go, Friday's 72-65 loss was tough to take for the Bulldogs, who led for more than three quarters before Merrillville regrouped to end the game on a 15-5 run.
"They played a fantastic game," Pirates coach T.J. Lux said. "They shot the ball remarkably well. They moved the ball remarkably well.
"But we stayed with what we do — we challenged more shots (the second half), we executed our defense better by being all over the place, our energy level and our intensity level picked up a lot more."
Jelani Pruitt's 22 points paced the Pirates (7-1, 5-0), who also got 13 from Zoran Talley and 12 from Jake Raspopovich.
"Our offense is designed for everyone, not just for one player," Talley said. "Coach tells us to pass and cut, pass and cut, hit the open man.
"There's no unselfish players on this team."
Shooting guard B.J. Jenkins spent the first half sitting after getting his second foul at 6:24 of the opening quarter and the Pirates were staring up at a 21-8 deficit minutes later.
Nick Jeffirs' 14 first-half points and 11 in the second quarter by Zack Plesac staked C.P. to a 36-29 lead, aided by 15 Merrillville turnovers.
The Pirates didn't take their first lead of the night until Pruitt's 3-point play made it 54-51 with 16.4 seconds left in the third quarter.
Jeffirs led C.P. (3-5, 1-4) with 20 points, Plesac added 19 and Tom Bardeson had 11.
"We just shot too quick (the second half). We kinda fell in love (with the 3)," said Bulldogs' coach Clint Swan, his team hitting 8 of 18 for the game. "We needed to attack."
Crown Point did not attempt a free throw the second half.
"We quit playing to our strength — taking it to the rim," Swan said. "The first half, we imposed our will on them. The second half, they imposed their will on us."