Eagles headed to Final Four

The CMA contingent at LaPorte celebrates a regional win
Ron Haramia
Sports Writer

How about a crack at the No. 1 team?
That is next on the to-do list for the Culver Academy boys basketball team after the Eagles overcame a slow start to defeat West Lafayette, 50-43, in the Class 3A LaPorte Regional championship game Saturday night.
The Academy (21-6), which reached the semi-state round of the high school playoffs back in 2011, finds itself back in the Final Four and will meet top-ranked New Castle (27-2) on Saturday, March 17 at Lafayette Jefferson High School. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m. The Class 4A contest between undefeated No. 2 South Bend Riley (26-0) and No. 10 Carmel (20-7) will follow at 3.
“Our kids are resilient,” said Culver Academy head coach Mark Galloway. “I want to thank all the Eagles fans that showed up. We needed that extra energy.”
After facing a fast-breaking, full-court pressing Hammond team in the morning semifinal, West Lafayette (22-5) offered a totally different look and gave the Academy fits early.
“I think we were tired mentally, more than physically,” surmised Galloway about the 8-2 deficit in the first few minutes as the Red Devils drove to the basket at will. “We faced a lot of defensive pressure that first game and then we saw a different style of game and you question what you should do. At halftime we talked about guarding people better and getting the ball inside.”
Coming out of the break trailing 22-21, the Eagles finally looked more like the team that swept the sectionals and destroyed Hammond earlier in the day. They moved the ball around, got it inside, played defense and ran off a 13-2 spree to take a 34-24 lead midway through the third period.
After scoring 30 points in the morning game, Deontae Craig was held in check the first half against the Red Devils, but the sophomore forward scored six of his eight points in the third frame, Trey Galloway added an old-fashioned three-point play, reserves Henry Zehner and Jordon Freeman offered strong minutes on a short bench, and starters Ethan Brittain-Watts and Amari Curtis picked up their play as well.
“Once we went on that run and got that extra enthusiasm, we were fine,” added Coach Galloway. “When they went to that 1-3-1 zone, we were able to get it to Deontae on the baseline and he is tough to stop. We were down one guy (Nick Hittle injury), but Jordon made some plays, Henry made some. Henry’s always ready.
“That’s a great team lifting each other up. That’s why it’s fun because you never know who is going to step up and make those plays. You’ve got to trust your teammates.”
The lead reached as high as 37-26 and in the fourth quarter it was just a matter of holding on. West Lafayette did close to 41-38 with 3:02 remaining, but Brittain-Watts scored seven of his dozen in the final eight minutes and the team hit 5-of-8 from the foul line to thwart any serious comeback.
“When Ethan gets the ball in the middle of the floor, he’s pretty solid,” Galloway continued. “His touch also allows us to rebound. The ball hangs on the rim a little bit. Once he got going in the middle, he was making plays. I thought Ethan was great.”
Galloway also finished with 12 points and one of his three triples was from NBA distance. Craig and Curtis (8 pts.) were the team’s top rebounders with seven and five, respectively. Defensively, the Eagles held 6-foot-6 senior standout Matt Krause scoreless through the first three quarters and five for the game.
“They had us extended and I’m glad a couple of (Trey’s 3s) went in,” said Coach Galloway. “Once they had to come out of that zone, it was tough for them to guard us. Great teams have great teammates. They share the ball, they guard, and they are resilient. Our help-defense was a step late (in the early going). If you are going to cut down nets, you need to get stops and take care of the basketball. Once we figured that out we were good.”
And now they can focus on that updated to-do list.
At Class 3A LaPorte Regional championship
CULVER ACADEMY (50): Henry Zehner 1 2-3 4, Ethan Brittain-Watts 5 2-4 12, Johnny Cohen 1 0-0 3, Jordon Freeman 0 3-4 3, Deontae Craig 3 2-4 8, Amari Curtis 3 2-2 8, Trey Galloway 4 1-2 12. TOTALS: 17 12-19 50.
WEST LAFAYETTE (43): Gabe Klinker 7 1-2 16, Nelson Mbongo 4 3-4 11, Luke Touloukian 0 0-0 0, Yanni Karlaftis 0 3-4 3, Colin Merriott 0 0-0 0, Luke Staton 1 2-2 4, Matt Krause 2 1-2 5, George Karlaftis 2 0-0 4. TOTALS: 16 10-14 43.
Score by quarters
Culver Academy 7 14 16 13 – 50
West Lafayette 10 12 8 13 – 43
3-pointers: Culver Academy 4 (Galloway 3, Cohen), W. Lafayette 1 (Klinker). Fouls (fouled out): Culver Academy 17 (none), W. Lafayette 14 (none). Rebounds: Culver Academy 24, W. Lafayette 17.
Records: Culver Academy 21-6, W. Lafayette 22-5 (final)