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MERRILLVILLE — So you say teenagers don't read the newspaper anymore?

Yeah, right.

Before the tipoff of Saturday night's Duneland Athletic Conference opener, the Merrillville Pirates were jacked and juice to take on the Chesterton Trojans.

Did they dislike the opponents? No.

Did they want to win their fifth straight game. Yes.

But that wasn't the fuel that had T.J. Lux's team ready to go from the outset.

"The newspaper had (Chesterton) ranked No. 1 in the Region and we were No. 6," Merrillville junior Rishard Balkcom said. "We wanted to show them they were wrong."

"Everyone said they were No. 1," senior guard Rob Sanders said. "We didn't believe that."

Neither The Times No. 1 Trojans nor No. 6 Pirates had a loss against a Region team this season coming into the game, but that changed on Saturday night.

Merrillville forced 26 turnovers on steal after steal to break open a tight game and the Bucs' went on for the 76-56 win.

"Close," Lux said about whether his young team has finally turned the corner. "We've had spurts throughout the start of the year but couldn't put it all together yet. We were close to that (Saturday) night."

Merrillville led 38-24 at halftime using defense to shut down Chesterton's offense. The Bucs had five steals in the first quarter and four more in the second quarter to break open a 2-point lead after one.

Jaylon Holmes scored six straight points to open the second quarter and eight overall. Balkcom also had a big second quarter, scoring seven points by attacking the hoop, but also getting five rebounds, two steals and an assist.

Johnny Bernard's 3 at the buzzer before the half was also an exclamation mark for a furious first 16 minutes.

Holmes only had two points in the fourth quarter, but he added four assists and three steals to go along with his 10 points and dotting all the other stats numbers.

"That's what Jaylon does," Lux said. "He's so disruptive."

There was a scrum at midcourt with less than two minutes left and Chesterton's Austin Peterson was ejected from the game, meaning he'll have to sit out the Trojans' next game against Hobart.

Darryon Bandy also received a T for the Pirates (8-4, 1-0).

"In the first half we allowed them to do things we can't do against a team like that," Chesterton coach Marc Urban said. "We gave them too many offensive rebounds and we turned the ball over too much.

"We have to figure out how to rebound and take care of the basketball against good teams."

Ky Palombizio led the Trojans (9-2, 0-1) with 20 points and Jake Wadding had 15, along with eight rebounds, five assists and three steals.

"Our bench guys did a great job bringing energy into the game," Lux said.

Balkcom, a junior finished with a career-high 24 points with eight boards. Bernard had 18 and Sanders had 15.

The Pirates were also 9 of 11 from the line in the fourth quarter, and 20 of 25 for the game. Chesterton went 10 of 16 from the line.

"We played as a team, we were running and getting to spots," said Sanders, Merrillville's starting point guard. "It was an effective and efficient game for us."


Sports reporter

Steve has won awards during two different stints at The Times. In addition to being the Prep Beat columnist, he covers football, boys basketball and boys track. He is a long-suffering Cubs fan.