La PORTE — After mustering a mere six points in the opening quarter on Friday night, 50 points didn’t seem like a reality for La Porte’s boys basketball team. Seventy points was surely out of the question.
After the break, though, the Slicers broke open a defensive struggle. And any time Chesterton made a run, they seemed to have an answer, building a nine-point, fourth-quarter lead and scoring 50 points in the second half.
It resulted in La Porte’s hard-fought, 71-65 Duneland Athletic Conference win over the Trojans in the nightcap of a girls/boys varsity doubleheader at Slicer Gym. It was La Porte’s sixth consecutive victory.
“We just came out flat,” Slicers forward Drake Gunn said. “But then, together as a team, we got pumped up and brought our energy back up. Because this was a big win. This was a big crowd, so we had to pull it together for the home team, for the program, for the family.”
Despite the sluggish start, La Porte (8-4, 2-0 DAC) stayed close, trailing just 11-6 following the first. And it was ahead three at the break, 21-18.
After the Trojans (10-3, 1-1 DAC), who are receiving votes in the AP poll this week, scored the first five points of the third to take a 23-21 advantage, that’s when La Porte’s offense clicked, even though it was facing foul trouble.
It reeled off a 23-12 run to go ahead 44-35 late in the third. Jake Spence nailed three 3-pointers in the spurt and Gunn was also stout offensively. The Slicers led 44-36 heading to the fourth. The cushion fluctuated between three and nine before Jake Wadding’s basket with :50.6 seconds left cut the margin to 62-60. And Chesterton got a steal and had a chance to tie the game, but missed a game-tying shot with 44 seconds remaining. La Porte then missed the front end of the single bonus, but Mason Schroeder grabbed the huge rebound. That set up Grant Ott-Large’s layup with 38 seconds to go to make it a four-point game. And the Slicers made most of their free throws down the stretch, as Chesterton was forced to foul.
“I’m just really proud of our effort, our execution,” La Porte coach Kyle Benge said. “Just how locked in we were all week. I keep telling the guys, ‘It was going to be a grind of a game.’”
The Slicers, who led by as much as nine in the fourth, were efficient offensively from the field in the last quarter, going 8-of-9. They registered 23 points in the third and 27 in the fourth.
“In the second half, we knew if we executed well offensively, we’d be OK,” Benge said. “Jake (Spence) started to get open and knock down some shots. Grant Ott-Large and Drake (Gunn) inside are great options. We started to figure it out offensively. That’s a really, really, good Chesterton team.”
La Porte’s Gunn posted 20 points before fouling out with just over two minutes left. And Spence recorded 13 points, including going 3-for-4 behind the arc and 11 big points in the third. Peyton Marker tallied 11 points off the bench, shooting 4-of-5 and drilling a pair of treys, and Carson Crass added nine points.
“Peyton (Marker) had a great game,” Benge said. “Here’s a kid who’s in the system for his first year, he’s adjusting, he’s doing the best he can. He’s made a real jump in the last couple of weeks and you can start to see that on the floor. Our bench was great coming in.”
As a team, La Porte finished 10-for-13 from the charity stripe in the fourth.
Chesterton’s 6-foot-4 forward Wadding, one of the best juniors in the area if not the state, poured in a game-high 27 points, including 12 in the fourth, however, it wasn’t quite enough. Jack Eaton followed with 16, and Tyler Nelson contributed 11.
Last season, La Porte was winless in the DAC, finishing 0-7. This campaign, the Slicers are already 2-0 and poised for more.
“I feel like our team is really bonding well and mentally tougher,” Gunn said. “I feel like we’re doing a really good job right now. This team is special.”
La Porte 71, Chesterton 65
Drake Gunn earned 20 points for the Slicers, who exploded for 50 points in the second half.