MICHIGAN CITY — Duneland Athletic Conference boys basketball titles aren’t easily obtained.
But a Merrillville team that was once 3-4 seems to have found itself during conference play, its only loss coming in overtime to Valparaiso.
The Times No. 5 Pirates beat Michigan City 79-66 to finish their conference schedule Friday and picked up a little help to clinch their share of the crown.
“We’ve got some guys playing with some confidence and doing what they’re capable of doing,” coach T.J. Lux said. “We’re trying to get better.”
The win was extra special for senior guard Johnny Bernard, a Michigan City native. The home student section chanted “traitor, traitor” at Merrillville’s leading scorer.
“It’s always fun to play here, knowing everybody,” Bernard said. “I wasn’t making smart plays in the first half and I was upset at halftime. I wanted to come out in the second half and make sure I do a good job.”
Bernard scored 14 of his game-high 25 points to help the Pirates pull away in the third quarter.
“I thought Johnny was, well, Johnny was Johnny,” Lux said. “He was big time.”
Rebounding was key for the Wolves (9-14, 3-3) in the first quarter as City created several second chances for itself.
“That’s a good team, Michigan City. They’ve had some tough losses,” Lux said. “They’re strong, athletic. They played some good defense and knocked down some tough shots.”
Will Hanyard hit four 3-pointers, including two with a hand in his face in the fourth quarter. He led the Wolves with 24 points.
Alex Thomas and Keyshawn McGill each went to the bench for long stretches of the first half with foul trouble.
Merrillville (15-7, 6-1) had its own foul issues. The Pirates spent the entire second quarter without Jaylon Holmes, who picked up his second foul on a charge in the final seconds of the first frame.
“We take care of the basketball in the second half and that limits their ability to get out and run in transition,” Lux said. “Between their offensive rebounds and their transition points, they were hurting us in the first half.”
Rob Sanders scored 14 for Merrillville and Holmes finished with 12, five rebounds and three blocks. Will Fulton scored nine on three 3-pointers.
“This was a goal for us all year because we think we’re the best team in the DAC,” Bernard said. “It’s finally paid off, all the hard work.”