Indiana was expecting a test Friday night, but what it got instead was a short quiz that the Indians looked ready for.
“I’ve been able to look my players in the eyes for 21 years and know if they’re ready for a game,” Indiana coach Greg Lezanic said, “and tonight, these guys were ready to play.”
Coming off a rough game Tuesday and the drama surrounding a canceled game Wednesday, Indiana was more than prepared to face Quad-A opponent Connellsville. The Indians’ defense contained the Falcons en route to a 63-43 win in a WPIAL non-conference boys’ basketball game at Fifth Street Gymnasium for their seventh straight victory.
“We heard that they were pretty good, so to come out and beat them like that in front of our home crowd was really nice,” Indiana’s Riley Stapleton said. “After the week that we had, it shows we’re going to be able to hang with the top teams in Triple-A.”
After a sluggish first half against Kittanning on Tuesday, Indiana bounced back in the second half for a 57-38 win. Then, the Indians’ game Wednesday against Kiski School was canceled due to an apparent “Twitter war.”
“We could just tell from the get-go that there was a spark in us today,” Stapleton said. “We didn’t have that in our last game. We were really slow and sloppy against Kittanning, so it was good to come out strong today.”
Indiana held Connellsville to just four points in the first quarter and went up 28-11 by halftime.
“We saw Indiana on film, and obviously with their record and all, we knew they were a good basketball team,” Connellsville coach Dan Bosnic said. “They really bothered us with their zone (defense), and we weren’t effective at all on offense. For whatever reason, it was a struggle for us.”
Darrious Carter, Indiana’s 6-foot-5 forward, took care of things inside by posting a double-double despite going up against Connellsville’s 6-foot-10 forward, Trent Bauer. Carter finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
“We knew they were going to be tough,” Carter said. “We knew exactly what was coming, and I played against (Bauer) when I was younger, so I knew I was going to have to work hard in there. It was a good day for us. We came out pretty strong and had the shots falling, and it felt good.”
Indiana went on a 13-0 run to end the first quarter and begin the second to take a 22-4 lead, and the Indians never let up from there.
Stapleton scored a team-high 16 points and added seven rebounds for the Indians (13-1 overall, 5-1 section), who sit in second place in the WPIAL Section 1-AAA standings behind Knoch (12-2, 6-1) and Mars (9-5, 6-1).
“The confidence around here is high right now,” Lezanic said. “We’re prepared to play, and the guys are playing hard. They’re coming together and meshing. They’re having fun. It’s nice to see them playing better basketball and having fun with it at the same time. That’s important at this point in the season.”
And it doesn’t get any more important for the Indians than their upcoming week.
Indiana will face Highlands (6-9) on Tuesday, Allderdice (9-2) on Wednesday and Knoch on Friday. The Indians’ only loss of the season came to Knoch on Dec. 20, and their non-conference game against Allderdice fills a hole on the schedule left by the canceled game against Kiski School.
“We have to be ready to go for a big week next week,” Lezanic said. “We were fortunate to come away with a win over Highlands here earlier in the season, but they gave us a game. That’s a tough place to play down there. Then we have a nice Allderdice team as a good replacement game.
“Of course you talk about it a little bit, but I don’t want to treat it like it’s the white elephant in the room. We tell the guys that if it’s a big game, it’s a big game. So what. I think it was (Pittsburgh Pirates manager) Clint Hurdle that said, ‘The game doesn’t know it’s big.’ It’s just a game. Just relax and go play. The guys know what’s on the horizon, and it’s going to be fun. We’re going to be ready.”
NOTES: Ten players scored for Indiana. … The Indians shot 22 of 52 (42 percent) from the floor. … Connellsville leading scorer Jimmy Leichliter drained six 3-point field goals (five in the second half) for a game-high 18 points. Bauer finished with 16 points.