MICHIGAN CITY | With the Duneland Conference regular season title at stake, early-game jitters were expected at Friday’s showdown between the Times No. 1 Merrillville and No. 2 Michigan City at the Wolves Den.
Both teams shook off doldrums and City (16-3, 11-2) won a thrilling 60-57 victory to hand Merrillville (18-1, 12-1) its first loss of the season.
“We stepped up our defense in the fourth quarter,” City coach Mike Megyese said. “They’re 18-1 for a reason. They’re 18-1 because they’re a great basketball team.”
Toni Murphy hit four free throws in the final 17 seconds of the game to give the Wolves the upset. Murphy finished with a team-high 25 points.
“When push came to shove, Toni took control of the ball game when the game had to be won,” Megyese said.
Merillville let the game slip away in the waning moments after taking a 57-54 lead with less than a minute to play. Trailing 58-57 the Pirates turned over the ball with 4.5 seconds left.
“They didn’t win, we gave the game away,” Merrillville coach Amy Govert said. “And you can’t do that, but it’s a learning experience.
“This doesn’t hurt us. We still at least clinched a share (of the DAC). It’s not the post season, but we can’t make the decisions we were making. The turnovers were unforced.”
Merrillville can still wrap up the DAC crown with a win over Crown Point next week.
Forced to foul, City’s Toni Murphy hit two free throws with 3.6 left, and a desperation 3-pointer was off the mark.
Merrillville turned the ball over 12 times in the first quarter and trailed 14-7 at the first stop.
The Pirates rallied in the second quarter behind the strength of Morris, who tallied 11 points, and A.J. Downs added five points to get them to within 29-28 at halftime.
“I thought she attacked the basketball, and we didn’t panic when we were down early,” Govert said. “Our effort was there, it was just our decision-making. That’s all fixable.”