Indiana coach Greg Lezanic wants his team to keep improving every game, and on Friday night, it looked like the Indians were heading in the right direction.
Despite losing control for a few minutes in the third quarter, Indiana raced to a dominating 85-56 victory over Freeport in a WPIAL Section 1-AAA boys’ basketball game at Fifth Street Gymnasium.
Four players scored in double figures for the Indians, who led by at least 20 points for much of the game.
“We just want to keep getting better,” Lezanic said. “We have a little motto now since we came back from our trip to New Jersey. We want to play better today than we did before. We need to keep improving. Specifically from that is we have to play for 32 minutes. We can’t ease up on defense, not even for a second.”
Regardless of the final score, the Indians weren’t completely satisfied with the win.
Indiana’s up-tempo, transition offense builds directly from its defense, and when the defense isn’t there, the offense doesn’t produce, Lezanic said.
Consider it a lesson learned for the Indians.
After leading 52-21 at the half, Indiana took its foot off the gas and allowed Freeport to creep back to within 10 points. The Yellowjackets outscored the Indians, 27-9, in the third.
“We just came out and took them too lightly after halftime,” Indiana’s Riley Stapleton said. “We weren’t contesting shots and just weren’t playing hard on defense. If we would go 100 percent the whole game, we can do really well. But we need to go 100 percent all of the time and not let up.”
“We need to keep up our intensity after halftime,” Blake Shields said. “We realized that we had to step it up because they weren’t missing any shots. But we made a couple big plays and took control again.”
Shields scored a game-high 26 points, including 19 before halftime, and Stapleton added 17 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Darrious Carter finished with 13 points, and Kevin Jack had 11.
The Indians had struggled with their shooting early in the season, but the shots seemed to fall more easily Friday. They shot an even 50 percent (33 of 66) from the field and missed just four free throws (14 of 18). The teams combined for 13 3-point field goals in the game.
“Yes, our shooting did seem better tonight,” Lezanic said, “but the team has finally found out that our offense is predicated from our defense. Our defense is what gets us excited. We like the transition basketball game, and the only way to score points in transition is if you play good defense. Whether it’s steals, whether it’s turnovers off the press or whether it’s defensive rebounds, when we start getting easy buckets, then the jump shots start to fall, too. It’s a cycle, and we’re figuring that out.”
All but one of Indiana’s dressed players recorded points in the win, which pushed the Indians’ record to 11-1 with their only loss coming to first-place Knoch.
“Our bench is deep, and at times, my toughest job is trying to get some guys some minutes,” Lezanic said. “That being said, you can’t just substitute five guys for five guys, especially as the year goes on because the bench starts to shrink a little bit as the games get bigger. We have guys right now that are learning their roles, and they’re accepting their roles. We’re really starting to come together as a team, and this is a good point of the season to be doing that.”
Indiana went on a 32-3 run to end the first quarter and begin the second, and its full-court press kept the Yellowjackets off balance throughout the first half.
“They’re an extremely talented team,” Freeport coach Mike Beale said of second-place Indiana. “They’re 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3 across the board, and they’re one of the top teams in our conference for a reason. We came out and settled down in the third quarter because their press gave us big problems early in the game. We got back in the game, but then they went on another run.”
After Freeport cut its deficit to 10 on the first basket of the final quarter, Indiana went on a 14-0 run that featured back-to-back-to-back slam dunks by Stapleton to give the Indians their momentum back.
“I hope the guys learned a lesson tonight,” Lezanic said. “In the third quarter, we quit playing defense. We just flat out quit. It happened against Mars the other night, too. They let up for just a second let teams back into these games. We have to keep our heads in the game, and we can’t rest mentally. If we rest mentally, then we stop moving our feet and we rest physically. We can’t do that. But we got our defense back on track and gained control, and it’s nice to see all the hard work that they’re putting in pay off. They’re enjoying themselves on the floor, and they’re having fun.”