The free-throw line had not been a fun place for East Chicago Central sophomore Louis Williams this season.
“My free-throw percentage was terrible,” the 5-foot-8 guard said while shaking his head. “But this was very important. I couldn’t lose the game for my team. I had to ice the game.”
In the final 90 seconds of Saturday’s Class 4A East Chicago Central Sectional championship, Williams sank five straight free throws to help his Cardinals outlast Lake Central 67-62.
East Chicago (15-9) will face Warsaw (17-9) in next Saturday’s Michigan City Regional semifinals.
Williams said he was shooting between 50 and 60 percent on free throws this season. But his coach wasn’t worried when Williams (11 points) stepped to the line.
“Late in the season, he was making his free throws,” EC coach Pete Trgovich said. “It may not show, percentage-wise, because he wasn’t making them early in the season. I was very confident with him going up there.”
Williams’ free throws kept East Chicago (15-9) ahead of Lake Central (15-12) after the Cardinals trailed 52-47 in the middle of the fourth. They rallied thanks to their efforts from behind the arc. Senior Jermaine Couisnard, who had a game-high 28 points, drained a pair of long-range threes to keep EC in the game.
“We were pretty solid on him for a long time,” Lake Central coach Dave Milausnic said of Couisnard. “But then he hits two 28-footers back-to-back and that’s the difference in the game.”
Couisnard said the points he scored inside the paint in the first half set up his outside game in the fourth quarter.
“I just kept trying to get the ball down to the big men and step out so they could feed it,” he said.
With the game tied at 56 and about three minutes left, EC senior Alyion Stubbs was left alone in the corner and sank a three that gave the Cardinals the lead for good.
“Stubbs hit the biggest three of the game,” Trgovich said.
Then Williams went on his streak at the free-throw line, which helped the Cardinals hang on in another close game.
Jibril Harris had 13 points and Devonte Jones scored 10 for East Chicago.
“If you looked at our entire season, we didn’t have many games where we ran away with it,” Trgovich said. “When you play a more difficult schedule, you prepare yourself for moments like this.”
Lake Central was led by 19 points from senior Norell Smith. Joe Graziano added 15 points, Justin Graciano had 11 and Conner Tomasic added 10.
“If you can find a group of guys who are willing to play good defense, take care of the ball and find good shots, you can compete with anybody,” Milausnic said.
Dave Melton is a freelance writer for the Post-Tribune.