MERRILLVILLE | Merrillville's defense sat out the first half of Friday night's girls basketball game against Lake Central.
When it entered in the second half, the Pirates forced a quick six turnovers and didn't allow any Lake Central player but Lindsay Kusbel to score until the final second of the third quarter.
The press, which resulted in 13 second-half steals, helped Merrillville to a 60-41 Duneland Athletic Conference win over the Indians.
"We challenged them at halftime," Merrillville coach Amy Govert said. "They were not effective in the first half, we challenged them to improve that."
The Merrillville defense suffered the same first-half letdown against Hobart earlier in the week. For the second time in as many games, the Pirates trailed at halftime.
"We have to pick up our tempo and start playing the first half the way we play our second halves," Merrillville senior guard Dariyan Morris said. "We should always be playing like that."
Morris had four of those second-half steals and finished with five to join her game-high 21 points. She picked up 13 of those points from the free-throw line, where she hit 13 in row, missing her first two and her last try.
The Pirates credit their turnaround to 5-foot-3 senior Anjelica Peppers, who didn't have any points, but who volunteered to guard 5-foot-11 Indians center Kusbel.
The sophomore had eight of her 12 points in the third quarter, all but two of her team's 10 points in the frame.
"Anjelica Peppers is our player of the game. I looked at her and asked her if she was ready to rebound, and she said 'I'll take (Kusbel),'" Govert said. "She pressured the ball and we fed off her tonight. I'm proud of her effort."
The pressure defense helped turn a five-point deficit into a 19-3 swing, a change in the game that Lake Central coach Marc Urban said needs to change in the next two weeks.
"We need to limit those runs to 9-3 instead of 19-3," Urban said. "Tonight we learned how to play in big games; this was a big-game atmosphere. They got down and responded, we have to make plays and respond when we get down."
Tara Zlotkowski added 12 points for the Indians (10-7, 7-4) and Jessica Bell had a game-high 12 rebounds.
Victoria Gaines chipped in 10 points for the Pirates (17-0, 11-0) and AJ downs had 12 points.
Merrillville's regular-season winning streak has reached 38 games, dating back to the end of the 2010-11 campaign. There are six unbeaten girls basketball teams in Indiana, four in Class 4A.