GARY | The 21st Century gym was packed with families on senior night, but it was a player coach Rodney Williams called a "seasoned sophomore" who sealed a tough victory for the Cougars.
Guard Eugene German hit five of six free throws in an eventful fourth quarter to push 21st Century by Times No. 6 Lake Station 77-75.
"You just gotta stay really focused and not let (the pressure) get to you," German said. "I think about my family at the free throw line. That's all I'm thinking about is my family and my team."
The final frame opened with a Kyle Gooch 3-pointer that gave Lake Station a 50-49 lead, its first since the first quarter. But the Eagles' advantage would be short-lived.
Lake Station coach Bob Burke was given a technical foul at 5:21 with his team down 60-56. Burke said he'd asked the official to protect his diminutive point guard Dwayne Haden, who appeared to be hit in the face while driving on the previous play.
"I know I was kind of on a little bit, but I told him he's the littlest guy out there and he needs help when he gets hit. That's all I said," Burke said. "I told the guys 'I'll take that one. It's on me in a tough situation.'"
With just 27 seconds left, Lake Station's Angel Guerrero was called for an intentional foul of Arnez Cathey on a fast break. Cathey flew into the padding under the hoop and the Cougars bench got its back up until coaches calmed things down. The score was 70-67 before the play but the lead was seven points by the time the Eagles got the ball back.
The Cougars (12-5) held on with German's free throw shooting.
"This was a big test for us. It was out best game of the season," Williams said. "We've been talking mental toughness all year and I think tonight they showed that they have it."
Lake Station (15-6) left 13 points at the charity stripe, where it shot only 50 percent.
"We're not going to beat good teams missing free throws," Burke said. "We usually recover well. When we shoot bad one day we usually shoot good the next, so hopefully that streak continues."
Brian Patterson led all scorers with 28 for the Eagles while Ben Neals added 15 points and 10 rebounds. German scored 22 and Cathey added 20 for 21st Century.