CHESTERTON — The signature win that Tom Wells has been searching for to add some stock to a strong first season at Michigan City was all but in the bag.
Up 15 with under four minutes left against Class 4A No. 5 Chesterton, the Wolves saw the lead begin to dwindle, yet still led by eight at the 1:13 mark.
They can’t blow that, can they?
The Trojans rallied to force overtime, tying the game on an Alex Schmidt corner 3 with 8.8 seconds left, then rode the surge in the extra period to steal a crucial 74-68 Duneland Athletic Conference victory.
“Our response to adversity, our poise, was horrendous,” Wells said. “It showed up in our huddles, it showed up obviously on the floor. That’s what I was most disappointed in. This is all about your response. We’ve got to be more mature. We’re arguing with each other in the huddle. We really lost our composure. It was almost a complete, total meltdown of emotions.”
It took a perfect storm for City (11-5, 3-2) to let a 58-43 advantage disappear in under half a quarter, not just its own undoing, but a sudden resurgence by a Trojans team that had all of seven baskets in three quarters. Only a parade to the free throw line kept Chesterton in the game, down 40-31, headed to the fourth. Travis Grayson scored 12 points in the final eight minutes, when the hosts doubled their previous score.
“We just weren’t very secure with the basketball. We got way too loose with the basketball, which is surprising because we have so many guards who like to play north and south,” Wells said. “We were really good (earlier). We just disrupted them so much. Once it started getting away, we had the first answer, but, boy, did they make a bunch of plays.”
The biggest of them all was the triple by Schmidt right after Omarion Hatch hit Dez Hawkins for a layup off the in-bounds play seconds previously.
Chesterton (17-1, 5-0) rode the emotional wave in OT. Grayson scored in transition to make it 69-65 and Schmidt free throws iced it.
“What a clutch shot from Alex,” said Grayson, who was sick and missed the last two days of practice. “At halftime, he came in the locker room and yelled at us, we have to get it going. That just clicked with me. I told myself, we’re not losing this game. I came in with that type of mentality. My teammates helped me, they got me going. Coach always says someone has to step up and make plays. We’re a group of fighters. I’ll take my guys over anybody. I just want to continue to fight with my guys. Hopefully, we go pretty far.”
The Trojans finished 31-of-42 at the line, compared to 4-of-9 for the Wolves.
“You don’t see that very often,” Wells said, carefully choosing his words more than he did during a sideline scolding to one of the officials. “I’ve done it long enough, the officiating end of it. It’s hard to feel good about those nights. You’ve got both coaches on your (butt), everybody’s going to remind you, It’s 42-10, 42-10, 42-10.”
The end result overshadowed three quarters of elite defense by Michigan City, which rattled Chesterton’s guards with pressure and made it miserable for the Trojans’ Jake Wadding.
“I thought we did a good job of keeping them in front, we just gave them so many live-ball turnovers, that really killed us,” coach Marc Urban said. “We’re missing from the line. We’re having so many empty possessions. They’re good. They took us out of some things, then we get into our spots and they’re doubling Jake. They press the entire time and get into you. We’ve got to find a way to score. But give our kids credit. They battled and found a way. Travis’ ability to get downhill and get to the rim, he’s a special player.”
Grayson finished with 25 points, Schmidt with 22 and Wadding with 16. They were a combined 29-of-40 at the line.
Hodges scored 16 and Evan Bush 13 for City, which used a 21-9 second quarter to lead 30-17 at the half.
“You can talk about a press in a basketball game, you can talk about your whole life,” Wells said. “Experience is the best teacher, right? We haven’t been in that spot very often, so hopefully going through this will make us better. The kids won’t want to watch the end of it, but we’ll be able to take some positives out of it.”