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It doesn’t matter to Hammond Central’s Jelani McGregor whether he’s starting or coming off the bench.
The junior guard scored 11 points in a reserve role Tuesday as the visiting Wolves staged a second-half comeback to top Portage 54-46.
“My teammates got me open,” McGregor said. “I got to my right spots. The coaches drew up the plays, and we executed well.”
McGregor scored eight of his points in the third quarter, helping Hammond Central (9-5) rally from a seven-point deficit two minutes into the period.
“He was really poised,” Hammond Central coach Larry Moore Jr. said. “He can knock down shots. He let it come to him. In the first half, he pressed a little bit. In the second half, he calmed down.
“He’s a high-volume scorer, and he just had to find his rhythm. We’re comfortable with him coming off the bench — scoring, dribbling and knocking down free throws.”
Neither team led by more than three points in the first half.
Junior guard Kamari Slaughter had 26 points and 12 rebounds for Portage (10-3), which scored the first four points in the second half to grab a 27-20 advantage with 6:24 left in the third quarter. But Hammond Central increased its pressure to seize control of the game.
“Same thing with Valpo — they started pressuring us and right now we’re just not handling it at all,” Portage coach Bryon Clouse said. “They’re long and quick, and it’s hard sometimes to get to the right spot. We’re going through drills in practice and putting them through different things trying to handle the pressure, and we’re just not doing a very good job with it.
“I don’t know what the answer is. We have to go back to the drawing board with a few things. Maybe some lineup changes. I feel like I have them in a position to succeed, but right now it’s just not working.”
McGregor hit the second of his two third-quarter 3-pointers to draw Hammond Central to 31-30 with 3:06 left. Vynce Overshown added a 3-pointer to give the Wolves a 33-31 lead, and Kenneth Grant scored on a putback of his own miss with 1:57 left in the third to put them ahead for good at 35-33.
McGregor closed the scoring in the third with a strong drive with three seconds left to make it 39-35, and a 3-point play by junior guard Jordan Woods extended Hammond Central’s lead to 47-38 with 5:48 left in the fourth.
“We’ve been battled-tested,” Moore said. “We’ve seen everything. Our schedule has been so tough. We’ve had some games that have been close, and we didn’t finish them out. But I had confidence in us.
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“We’re pretty deep, and we wore them down. Their first five is really good, but their bench is not deep. We just had to play four quarters, stay focused and wear them down.”
Woods scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half, including eight in the fourth quarter.
Blake Creech added 10 points for Portage.
“Kamari had a great night, but we needed a few other people to go with him,” Clouse said. “Other people had to step up and take some of the pressure off him. Other people had to step up handling the basketball.
“We’re leading. We’re right there. We just have to move on from here and get better.”