HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL: Indians breeze to open season of high expectations
December 07, 2013 10:39 AM
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The excitement had been building since February.

When Indiana last played a basketball game, it had an exciting, talented team in the WPIAL playoffs. It also had no seniors. All those players are back, leaving the Indians with high expectations for the 2013-14 season.

Indiana opened its most anticipated boys’ basketball season in a long time by running away with a 74-25 victory over Calvary Baptist of Meadville in the Indiana Basketball Boosters Tip-Off Tournament on Friday night at a keyed-up Fifth Street Gymnasium.

Indiana faces Hollidaysburg in this evening’s championship game at approximately 8.

“It was nice, wasn’t it?” Indiana coach Greg Lezanic said. “When did you ever see the gym almost full on opening night? The community’s excited, the players are excited. We have a nice team, and they’ve worked hard to get to this level.”

“Everyone was really looking forward to tonight,” said junior Riley Stapleton, who scored a game-high 17 points, “and after tonight, everyone’s really looking forward to the season.”

Indiana opened the game with a flurry, going on a 9-0 run with its full-court press defense forcing turnover after turnover on Calvary Baptist inbound passes. The Indians outscored the Thunder 31-2 in the first quarter and led 50-11 at halftime.

“It’s nice to get our confidence up, coming out and getting on the court in front of our home crowd, getting it going,” Stapleton said.

“We’ve been going at this for two weeks, plus a week of conditioning, so we were going at it three weeks with each other,” Lezanic said. “You’re just looking to play somebody.”

Enter Calvary Baptist — not to be confused with the school by the same name in Clymer. Also a non-PIAA program, the Thunder made the trip from Meadville and filled the vacancy in Indiana’s tournament. Calvary Baptist faces Westmont Hilltop in today’s consolation game at 4:30 p.m. Hollidaysburg defeated the Hilltoppers, 65-27, earlier Friday.

“My kids learned a valuable lesson,” Lezanic said. “Sometimes that’s what it’s all about. It’s more than just winning and losing. We learned from their attitude and how they handled themselves tonight.”

“They were having a lot of fun out there,” Stapleton said. “They deserve a lot of respect.”

Stapleton was called for a travel right after the tip-off on his way in for what was going to be a season-opening slam dunk. He made up for it by throwing it down four other times on the night, including twice on alley-oops from Kevin Jack.

Darrious Carter scored 11 points, and Jack had 10. Twelve players scored and 13 got into the game for Indiana.

“Quite honestly, we have so many kids, we’re still looking for roles to develop,” Lezanic said. “It’s not like everyone can go out and play 18 or 20 minutes. It’s not going to happen, so we need kids to buy into a role.”

Indiana shot 33 of 68 (48.5 percent) and forced 30 turnovers while committing just 10. The Indians got the “black-out” student section and the rest of the gym going from the start.

“The town’s buzzing, even,” said Lezanic, who in his previous post led the Marion Center girls to District 6 championships in 2010 and ’11. “Everyone wants to talk basketball. My last two years at Marion Center, talk about expectations, when you win the district and then you have everybody back. Expectations are good, because they’re based on success. If you don’t have that success, the expectations aren’t that high, but these kids are learning to deal with that. They’ve got to learn, the old clich´┐ę, to be the hunted and not the hunter.”

That starts tonight against Hollidaysburg. The Golden Tigers defeated Indiana, 45-42, in last season’s hotly-contested opener in Indiana, then beat the Indians, 54-44, in a non-conference game in Hollidaysburg in early January.

“We’re rivals with Hollidaysburg,” Stapleton said, “so it’s always going to be interesting with them.”

“Hollidaysburg beat us, and it’s a great rivalry,” Lezanic added. “We’re looking forward to battling with them. We got to play them in an eight-minute quarter scrimmage down at North Allegheny last Saturday, and it was spirited, to say the least. So it will be fun tomorrow.”

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