At halftime, McCutcheon coach Rick Peckinpaugh demanded better defensive play.
Robert Phinisee, who played less than five minutes in the first half after picking up two quick fouls, heard the message loud and clear.
McCutcheon’s freshman guard had six points, four assists, three rebounds and six steals in the second half, helping the Mavericks overcome a 23-21 deficit to crush rival Lafayette Jeff 55-34 at Resler Gymnasium Thursday night.
“We picked up the intensity,” Phinisee said. “Coach told us at halftime we weren’t playing hard. He told us to get more steals.”
In a battle of Tippecanoe County’s two hottest teams, McCutcheon (17-3) won its seventh straight at the expense of the Bronchos (11-9), who lost for just the second time in their last nine games.
Phinisee was unfazed by a hectic environment and a firy rivalry game that included a double technical foul and a flragrant foul in the final 8:36.
Tre’Shon Heard was the recipient of one of those techinical fouls, but made up for the mistake with 10 points in the fourth quarter on 5 of 5 shooting and finishing with a game-high 15 points.
The Bronchos had a slim two-point lead at halftime despite McCutcheon ending the first half on a 7-0 run.
Darian Collins was 3-for-3 from the 3-point line in the first half and scored 11 in the first two quarters and Jalen Williams’ 3 late in the first quarter put Jeff ahead. Collins didn’t score in the second half.
Sparked by the defensive play of Phinisee and senior Dionte Nunn, McCutcheon forced 10 Jeff turnovers in the second half and held the Bronchos to just 11 points, including two in the third quarter. The Mavericks kept Lafayette Jeff scoring leader David Hanyard to zero points on 0 of 4 from the field.
“Our defense has been pretty good all year,” Peckinpaugh said. “We adjusted at halftime. We knew where people were. We have some smart kids and they adjusted. In the second half they didn’t give those (open) shots up.”
The second half struggles for Lafayette Jeff came after McCutcheon needed a 3 in the final seconds to defeat the Bronchos earlier this season.
The two teams could meet again in the sectional and if the Bronchos have learned anything from the first two encounters, it’s that they can compete against McCutcheon.
“It was difficult when we were trying to get back into the game, nothing was really falling for us,” Collins said. “When the sectional comes, I think we’ll be ready.”
Following the game, Phinisee and Jeff’s Dan Ricksy, who had eight points and seven rebounds, were honored as U.S. Army Strong Most Valuable Players.
From the final 3:13 of the first half until 6:38 remaining in the game, McCutcheon went on a 22-2 run, getting contributions across the board from its seven-man rotation.
Haden Deaton finished with 12 points and seven rebounds, Spencer Caldwell added eight points and five boards and Nunn scored 10 points off the bench.
“We’re a team that on any given night, we have five guys who can get double figures for us, maybe six even,” Peckinpaugh said. “It jsut depends what night it is who is going to get that for us. When you have that kind of balance of guys who can score, it is pretty tough to defend and the way our kids are working on the defensive end, I think we are playing as well as we have all year right now.”