Indiana boys chasing 5th straight section championship

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Monday, January 29, 2018 | 4:39 PM


As a freshman in 2015, Carlos Carter was excited to get on the Petersen Events Center floor with his Indiana teammates in the WPIAL boys basketball championship, but he made a rookie mistake that night.

He brought the wrong color jersey.

“In the previous game I got blood on my white jersey, and I told my mom to wash it,” Carter said. “I didn't even think about it, and then we showed up I said ‘we're wearing red right?' And they said “No we're wearing white” and I was like ‘Oh my gosh.' I couldn't believe it.”

Indiana ended up beating Beaver Falls, 62-61, in thrilling fashion, on a last-second layup by Dylan Stapleton, and instead of being on the bench for one of the greatest moments in Indians basketball history, Carter was up in the stands with the camera crew.

“I didn't get to warm up or sit with the team, and I was disappointed,” Carter said. “It has added a fire inside me to get back there to play on that court.”

Carter, a senior, is on a mission this year, and he's blossomed into one of the top players in the WPIAL, averaging more than 25 points. Along with fellow seniors Tommy Arbuckle and Ben Bianco, Carter has Indiana zeroed in on its fifth consecutive section title. The Indians are 13-2 and 8-1 in Section 1-4A.

Indiana coach Greg Lezanic dressed Carter, Bianco and Arbuckle in the playoffs back in 2015 to allow them to experience the intensity that comes along with playing in the postseason. They still talk about the night Carter brought the wrong jersey.

“We still laugh about it today,” said Lezanic, who's in his sixth year at Indiana. “Carlos didn't get on the Petersen Events Center floor that night and so now he looks at me, smiles and says he's on a personal vendetta to get his feet on the Petersen Events Center floor, because he missed it the last time. He's half kidding, but in every joke there's some truth.”

Lezanic breaks his teams into three-year cycles. The first three years of his Indiana tenure were with the Stapleton brothers — Dylan and Riley — and Jacob Zilinskas, among others. Now it's the current group's third year in the cycle, and they've been strong thus far.

Outside of a 74-62 loss to Freeport on Friday and a 68-64 double-overtime win at Valley, Indiana has won every section game by double-digits. The Indians also have nonsection wins over Knoch and Hampton, which play in Class 5A.

“We have slew of seniors, and we've built this team for a run,” Lezanic said. “We had some success when we were rebuilding. We haven't had a bad year, but I am hoping this team is ready to make another run. I'm not saying we're at the caliber of Quaker Valley, Ambridge or New Castle, but we have a nice team in Indiana this year.”

Carter and Arbuckle showed their mettle in the double-overtime win over Valley. Carter had 35 points to go along with 20 rebounds, and scored all nine of the Indians' points in the second overtime. Arbuckle scored 12 of his 13 points in the second half, while playing with an illness.

In the loss to Freeport, Indiana fell behind by double digits early, before rallying to cut the lead to two points before halftime. But Freeport continued to shoot well in the second half and eventually pulled away. The loss halted a seven-game winning streak.

“We're going to keep fighting all year,” Carter said. “People are always going to bring their best against us. You have to give it to Freeport, they shot the lights out. Sometimes you have to fall to get back up. We'll just try to bounce back in our next one and try to get another streak going heading into the playoffs.”

Recruiting has picked up for both Carter and Arbuckle. Lezanic said Wheeling Jesuit, Pitt-Johnstown, LaRoche and Georgian Court (N.J.) have expressed interest in Carter, while Arbuckle has received interest from Pitt-Greensburg, Geneva and Juniata.

Carter has been friends with Arbuckle since he moved to Indiana from Portsmouth, Va. in elementary school.

“He was one of the first people I met when I moved here,” Carter said. “We got along right away. It just clicked. We were like brothers right away. We're always playing basketball, and his dad helped me when I was younger. I didn't know a lot of people, and he really got my name out there. He saw a great basketball player in me. Tom and I have been playing together ever since. We have such a good connection on the court.”

Aside from its final three section games against Yough, Mt. Pleasant and Derry, Indiana has an aggressive nonsection schedule to close out the season.

The Indians play Gateway on Wednesday, they play Serra Catholic at Seton Hill on Saturday, travel to Kennedy Catholic for a game with Erie on Feb. 7 and are at Hollidaysburg Feb. 10.

Lezanic put the schedule together to give Indiana some quality opponents heading into the postseason and to simulate some of the travel they'll experience in the playoffs.

In six years, Indiana has become a regular contender, and as the furthest east school in the WPIAL, Lezanic feels they've earned respect in the league.

“If I was in the WPIAL seeding room, I would've overlooked Indiana in the past too. We're out in the boonies,” Lezanic said. “The WPIAL championship definitely helped us. It put Indiana basketball on the map, and that's something that we're all proud of. When you talk about 4A basketball in Western Pennsylvania, Indiana is mentioned, and it's because of that WPIAL title. We've fought through a lot of the stigma of being an outskirts team.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.

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