HAMMOND — There are no foul calls allowed at Hammond boys basketball practices.
Athletes play though contact, expecting nothing, knowing they might not always get a trip to the free-throw line. Push, play and don’t make excuses.
Malik Miller wasn’t expecting a foul either way as he drove to his left on a 3-on-2 break with 2:06 to play in a thriller Friday night against Munster, but he got one.
He barely made the correct angle to get the ball to just kiss the glass enough to go in as the whistle blew, too. The subsequent made free throw turned a 56-all tie into a 59-56 lead and helped Hammond defeat an unflinching Times No. 6 Munster, 68-65.
“We keep pushing and keep playing no matter what,” Miller said. “We wanted this game so bad.”
It was the Wildcats’ first win against the Mustangs since Dec. 4, 2004. Eleven losses to the Mustangs ensued since then.
“Our guys deserved this because we work so hard,” Hammond coach Larry Moore Jr. said. “You press and press so hard on them in practice, and sometimes they don’t always see it pay off. This win shows that hard work is important, and I’m proud of these kids.”
Hammond outscored Munster 18-12 in the first quarter before allowing an unsightly 18-0 run to the Mustangs, who cruised into halftime up 35-26.
Hammond (1-1) came out with a big third quarter to eventually trade leads with the Mustangs.
With 2:24 to play, two free throws by Hammond’s Montell Bates tied the game before Miller’s three-point play swung momentum momentarily and gave the Wildcats just enough reason to believe.
Nevertheless, Munster (2-1) recaptured the lead and was up 62-59 with 57 seconds to go after a pair of free throws by leading scorer Jevon Morris (13 points).
Following a timeout and a decision to press relentlessly, Hammond went on a 6-0 run that spanned 37 seconds, capped by a basket from Miller, and the Wildcats led 63-62 with 20 seconds to play. A Munster 3 with two seconds to play cut the lead to 67-65, but a successful in-bounds pass and one made free throw by Amiri Young cemented the signature win for Miller and the Wildcats.
“Every game I’m showing why I should be up there,” said Miller, who led all scorers with 19 points and six assists after scoring 25 in a season-opening loss to Merrillville. “This is my breakout.”
Bates had 17 points, including a trio of 3-pointers, and Reggie Abrem scored 12. Young had nine points and four steals, none more gigantic than the one he picked off to feed Miller for the basket that made it 63-62.
“I put a lot on Malik to be a vocal leader and lead by example, and he’s ready for all of it,” Moore said. “We played Merrillville well and knew this would be a tough one, but our guys were really focused.”
Hammond pressed full-court with full intensity in the final minute as Munster gave up two consecutive turnovers that led directly to points and a loss of the lead.
In the second quarter Munster came out on 3-point shooters to nullify Hammond and had a huge showing from its bench. Reserves Eric Jerge and Nick Fies had massive efforts to total 10 points apiece.
The Mustangs, however, shot 30 percent from the floor in the second half as Hammond connected on 54 percent in the same time frame.
“Under one minute we had a three-point lead, and we lost it,” Munster coach Mike Hackett said. “We’ve got to make good plays in order to win.
“I hope we can learn from this because we’re going to be in a lot of close games.”