WILDWOOD, N.J. — The experience that the Indiana boys’ basketball gained last year when they didn’t have a single senior on the roster paid off Saturday night.
The Indians, playing an opening-round game at the Boardwalk Classic in Wildwood, N.J., relied on their experience in the late stages of a tight game and prevailed with a 55-51 win over Penns Grove (N.J.) to reach the championship game of the Big Al Memorial Bracket.
Indiana (7-1) will play Greenbrier Christian Academy (Va.) in the championship game this evening.
“They were a young team. They graduated five seniors, and the last two minutes or so, I think our experience took over at the end,” said second-year Indiana coach Greg Lezanic. “We did what we had to do.”
Blake Shields hit a 3-point field goal with 1:43 to play to give Indiana a 50-47 lead, and the Indians’ solid free throw shooting down the stretch sealed the game for them.
Penns Grove responded with a 3-pointer on its next possession to knot the game at 50, and after an Indiana turnover on the Indians’ next possession, Penns Grove had a 51-50 lead with just over a minute to play.
But with 56 seconds, Kevin Jack was fouled and calmly drained a pair of free throws as the Indians regained the lead for good, 52-51.
Penns Grove hurried its next shot and missed, and Jack again drilled two free throws with 28 seconds to make it 54-51, and Penns Grove’s 3-point shot in the waning seconds was off the mark to preserve the Indians’ big win at the prestigious tournament.
“They were a very athletic team,” Lezanic said. “This team looked to move the ball, and they ran their full court man-to-man (defense) the entire game. We were our own worst enemy because we were rushing, and we trailed almost the entire second half.”
The Indians trailed 24-23 at halftime and didn’t take their first lead of the second half until Shields hit a 3-pointer with 6:04 to play in the fourth quarter for a 42-41 lead.
Shields finished with 18 points, Darrious Carter added a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Riley Stapleton added nine points.
Indiana shot 22 of 55 (40 percent) for the game.