Fans showed up expecting a close game. Instead, they got another show.
Indiana crushed Hollidaysburg, 76-48, to claim their first Indiana Basketball Boosters Tip-Off Tournament championship since 2009 on Saturday night at Fifth Street Gymnasium. It was an early, tiny accomplishment in opening a season in which the Indians expect to add a few more.
“I don’t know the history, but it’s probably been a while since we won our tournament,” Greg Lezanic, Indiana’s second-year coach, said, “so that was one of our goals. We’re extremely pleased. The kids are happy, but there wasn’t this big celebration, because they know this is just the first step in our goals. But Hollidaysburg plays hard, so we’re happy. It was a nice win.”
Indiana lost to the Golden Tigers twice last season, including a three-point defeat in the season opener, relegating the Indians to the consolation game in their tournament. Without any seniors back, Hollidaysburg didn’t pack the same punch, but the win felt good nonetheless. The stakes were raised by a heated preseason scrimmage between the two teams at North Allegheny, during which a Hollidaysburg player was ejected.
“We wanted to come out and show them last year’s in the past,” junior guard Kevin Jack said. “We’re a different team this year. We have the same people, but we’ve all grown over the summer. We wanted to come out and show them it’s not their house anymore.”
The message was sent clearly.
Indiana built up a sturdy lead in the first half and played the second floating between 15- and 25-point leads. The Indians held Hollidaysburg to 6 of 23 3-point shooting (26.1 percent) and forced 18 first-half turnovers.
“I really expected it to be a little closer than it was, because they’re such excellent shooters,” Lezanic said. “We put the pressure on them on the perimeter, and the difference was our defense. We were up 10 or 12 at halftime, but (we missed) the foul shots and easy shots. The offense actually let us down a little bit (in the first half).
“Our defensive end was consistent throughout the game.”
Riley Stapleton scored 17 points and Blake Shields had 12. Darrious Carter, Dylan Stapleton and Jack added 11 each. Riley Stapleton was named the tournament’s most valuable player, and Carter and Jack were named to the all-tournament team.
“It definitely is a lot different than last year, coming out and losing the first game and not having a lot of people out here for the second game,” Jack said. “Winning last night and then winning tonight, it was a good thing. Our community came back. We have a lot of support.”
With its entire roster back from last season and sky-high expectations to match, Indiana is off to a 2-0 start. It’s a long way off from a section or district title, but it’s the way the team wanted to open the season, for sure.
“It was big, because everyone, not just in Indiana, but in Pittsburgh, had high expectations, because we had everyone back,” Jack said. “All the articles said we have all five returning starters and everything. We wanted to come out hard in the beginning of the season to show them we could live up to it. We like having the attention on us and we’re going to go hard.”
“It does say something about the team, that they’re growing into the expectations, and that’s what we want,” Lezanic said.
“No matter who we had on the floor, they played well and they played hard, and that’s the thing that I take away from this weekend, how hard we played. Things aren’t always going to go right, but as long as you’re playing hard, good things usually happen for you.”
Lezanic had his troops fired up from the beginning.
“Obviously through football, Hollidaysburg is a rivalry,” he said. “I could sense that right away, and it’s easy. So they’re ready, they’re playing at home, they’re playing in their tournament championship, which they haven’t won for a few years, they’re playing a rival in Hollidaysburg, and all I had to say in pregame was, ‘Seniors, you know this is the last time you play them.’ … You could just feel the intensity. It was already here and it just went, boom. It hit them. That was the first time they heard that senior speech from me, because we didn’t have any seniors last year. Not only do you want to remember beating them, but you want them to remember, and the kids did it.”