By Pedro Velazco
Peru’s boys basketball players gave a winning effort Friday night.
Today, they should have the floor burns and bruises to prove it.
Peru sprinted to a 10-point lead at halftime, then the Bengal Tigers used their hustle and some key shots in the second half to maintain their lead the entire way and close out a 57-53 victory at Western.
“It was probably the most complete game we played this year,” Peru coach Jim Metcalfe said. “We had eight guys contribute in some shape or form, just a great team win for our guys.
“We never panicked. We had chances there late, where we could have panicked and found a way to lose it, and our kids buckled down and made enough plays down the stretch and got a win for us.”
A key victory too, because the Bengal Tigers (7-6) improved to 4-0 in Mid-Indiana Conference play, with dates with Cass, Northwestern and Hamilton Heights ahead. Western (9-6) fell to 3-2 in the league. Peru is the only unbeaten remaining.
“We’ve still got three really tough games,” Metcalfe said of the MIC race. “We’re grateful for the position we’re in, but certainly not satisfied, certainly not content, and we realize we’ve got a lot of work to do to put ourselves in position to win the conference.”
Peru got ahead early, opening a 9-4 lead on a fast-break deuce from Brodie Brooks. The Bengals took charge in the second quarter, getting 11 points from reserve Connor MacDonald. He hit three triples in his first four shots, and closed the scoring in the second quarter with a fast-break hoop provided by Brooks’ hustle. Brooks tipped a long defensive rebound past a Western player, then raced him to the frontcourt for the ball and tipped a pass to MacDonald for a wide-open layup. That made the score 30-20 Peru at halftime.
“We had him on the scouting report. He’s a good shooter and he knocks down three 3s, and gets a 2 on that hustle play,” Western coach Bart Miller said of MacDonald. “That’s 11 points in a four-point ballgame from a sub. That’s huge. He came ready to play, as well as all their players.”
The Bengal Tigers led 44-35 after three quarters, then withstood Western’s rallies in the fourth quarter. Western trimmed the Bengal lead to 53-49 on a pair of free throws by Ronnie Smith with 45 seconds left. The Bengals came up empty on a trip to the line after that and Western had a chance to cut the lead further, but Evan Warden’s 3-ball was off target. Peru missed another freebie, but Bengal guard Eddie Childers came up with his second offensive rebound of a missed free throw that quarter, got fouled, and hit both free throws with 19 seconds left to give Peru breathing room.
Metcalfe stressed how big 50-50 balls were for his squad, and that was one of the first talking points for Western’s Miller as well.
“Rebounding again, and the 50-50 balls, just loose balls,” Miller said of the game’s deciding factors. “Peru, I’ve got to look at the film, but it seemed like they got all of them. I’m sure we got a couple of them, but they got the majority of those.
“When you don’t make those plays, you’re not going to win very many ballgames. Peru, hats off to them. They made those plays and executed and came out here and just beat us.”
Peru outrebounded Western 38-26 with the starting frontcourt of Logan Primerano (eight), Joe Comerford (eight) and Seth Adelsperger (seven) combining for 23 rebounds. Primerano paced the Bengals on the scoreboard with 15 points, Brooks added a dozen, Macdonald 11 and Comerford nine.
Smith led Western with 18 points from the center spot. Austin Weaver added 11 and Evan Warden 10. Smith and Austin Townsend each snagged nine rebounds.