INDIANAPOLIS - Tyler Zeller knew Zack Novak had it in him.
Typically known for his scoring and clutch shooting around Northwest Indiana, it was instead Novak's defense that led the Indiana All-Stars to a thrilling 83-82 victory over the Kentucky All-Stars on Friday night in front of 5,097 fans at Conseco Fieldhouse.
With the shot clock off and less than 20 seconds remaining in a two-point game, Novak was guarding Kentucky's Corey Sorrell. Sorrell drove the baseline to his left, but Novak cut off his path and forced Sorrell to take a bad and contested shot. The shot missed and Indiana's Gordon Hayward came up with the rebound.
Alex Young hit two free throws with 1.3 seconds to ice the victory, Indiana's eighth consecutive over Kentucky.
"That's just the way my role is going on this team," Novak said. "We got a lot people that can score. If they need me to do that eventually, then yeah I'll step up, take shots when they're there.
"But right now, I gotta go out there and stop some of their best players. … It's a little different. But that's what good players do. They contribute in other ways when they have to."
While it wasn't a typical Novak night - one point on 0-for-3 shooting - it was those other aspects of the game where he was his best.
Novak, who's bound for Michigan in the fall, had two assists, three steals and the big defensive play at the end of the game.
"In AAU, he had to do that," Zeller said of Novak. "We didn't need a lot of scorers. He did a great job of 'D'ing up lots of great, talented players from Kentucky. He did an excellent job."
For Zeller, he took home the Indiana Most Valuable Player honor in addition to receiving his Indiana Mr. Basketball ring earlier in the evening, scoring a team-high 22 points, grabbed seven rebounds, blocked two shots and even had a steal where he ran the length of the floor and the North Carolina recruit finished the play with a powerful dunk.
Larry Stone, formerly of T.C. Howe Academy and bound for IUPUI, had 12 points. Hayward, formerly of Brownsburg and heading to Butler, scored 11 points, and Young, formerly of Northwest High School and going to IUPUI, scored 10 points to round out the double-figure scorers for the Indiana All-Stars.
"We really wanted to get the win," Novak said. "It's a big victory for us."
Leading the way for the Kentucky All-Stars was Butler-bound Shelvin Mack, who had a game-high 24 points. He also pulled down six rebounds and had four assists.
Butler had four players in the game (Hayward, Chase Stigall, Garrett Butcher and Mack).
Also in double figures for Kentucky was Tennessee-bound Scotty Hopson with 14 points. Hopson added just beyond a half-court shot at the buzzer to end the game. Darius Miller, Kentucky's Mr. Basketball, scored 11 points.
Kentucky led for much of the first half, but the half ended tied at 40 when Miller turned the ball over and Stone finished off the play with a layup at the buzzer.
"It would've been real easy to fold," Novak said. "But we fought back. … The biggest thing was our defense stepped up big time, and we really clamped down on them.
"To go into the locker room tied, after you come out with that poor of a start is pretty big."
In the second half, Indiana took the lead with 16:04 left in the half - the game was two, 20-minute halves as opposed to the traditional high school game of four, eight-minute quarters.
Indiana took a 79-72 lead with 1:45 remaining. But Kentucky rallied to tie the game at 79 with 48 seconds left.
With 32 seconds remaining, Young hit a pair of free throws to give Indiana a two-point lead, setting up the final possession.
Kentucky let the clock wind down before the ball wound up in Sorrell's hands with less than 10 seconds remaining. He went for the drive, only to be met by Novak, who was also playing with four fouls.
Zeller knew Novak had that type of play in him because the two played in AAU tournaments together.
"He's a great kid," Zeller said. "He can shoot, he can dribble. He can do a little bit of everything. He's an excellent player."
But being the defensive star on the game's crucial play was just fine for Novak, especially against this opponent.
"They're a really good team," Novak said. "They said this is one of their better teams in the last couple of years. That's a real good win."
The series will conclude at 1 p.m. today at the Louisville Gardens in Louisville, Ky.
In the girls game, Janae Howard and Brittany Wilson led the Kentucky All-Stars with 11 points each, leading Kentucky to a 76-59 victory over the Indiana All-Stars on Friday night at Conseco Fieldhouse.
The victory by the Kentucky All-Stars snapped Indiana's five-game win streak, and it is its first victory on the Indiana leg of the two-game, home-and-home series since 1992.
Leading the Indiana All-Stars was Alex Guyton, formerly of Bloomington North High School. She scored 12 points, and is bound for Purdue next fall.
Also in double figures for Indiana were former Lebanon standout Maggie Boyer, who is headed to Miami University, and former Maconaquah star Deja Mattox, who will be attending Indiana State. Both players scored 10 points.
Attica's Brittany Rayburn, Miss Indiana Basketball, scored eight points.
Northwest Indiana representatives were South Bend Washington's Emily Phillips and Portage's Lisa Samplawski, who scored five and two points, respectively.
Indiana, which had its lowest offensive output since scoring 58 points in 1990, shot just 29 percent from the field for the game. Kentucky shot 39 percent, including 48 percent in the second half.
Contact sports writer Nick Dettmann at firstname.lastname@example.org or 874-7211, Ext. 447.