During his high school tenure, James Blackmon established himself as not only one of the greatest players to ever don the Purple and Gold of the Marion Giants, but also as one of the most electrifying and gifted talents in the illustrious history of Indiana high school basketball.
While he had excelled on the floor as a player, he has also excelled as a coach over the last 17 seasons, eight of which have been at his alma mater, and on Saturday evening at Bill Green Athletic Arena, he made history.
Behind a strong, second-half effort, a 40-point outburst from star point guard Jalen Blackmon, and tremendous defense in the guts of the game, the Giants recorded their first win of 2021, defeating the Fort Wayne South Side Archers 83-77.
With the victory, Blackmon claimed his 123rd win as the head coach of the Marion Giants, passing Marion legend Jack Colescott for third-most in school history. Only Woody Weir (163) and the immortal Bill Green (320), who coached Marion to six state championships, have won more.
“Colescott, when you say his name, it speaks for itself,” Blackmon said. “He set the tone as one of the great coaches in Indiana. When you think about being mentioned in that sentence, it sends a chill down my spine.”
While Coach Blackmon continued to solidify his Marion legacy, so did his youngest son. With his 40-point performance, Jalen Blackmon is now just 80 points from passing Jay Edwards for second place in Marion’s all-time scoring ranks – and just 117 from overtaking his father as the Giants’ all time leading scorer.
“I thought he was aggressive all night,” Blackmon said of his son. “He’s been that way all year long.”
While the Giants ended up coming away with the victory, it did not seem that the contest would end in a triumph with the way it started.
It was clear that the Archers were the more focused team in the first half. Fort Wayne South Side dominated the glass, outrebounding the Giants 20-10 in the first two quarters, and were more aggressive on both ends of the floor. South Side knocked down 15 of their 31 field goals in the first half, including four-of-nine from deep, while keeping the Giants’ offense under wraps, holding Marion to just nine-of-23 shooting and a woeful two-of-nine from beyond the arc.
“Coming into the ball game, we wanted to control the tempo,” Blackmon said. “But South Side did a great job early and handled the ball well.”
However, trailing by eight at halftime, the Giants made the necessary adjustments, and quickly turned the contest in their favor.
“In the second half, we extended our defense a little more,” Blackmon said. “We were more aggressive on the defensive end. We tried to speed those guys up, and I thought we sped them up, which led to easy transition buckets and some turnovers. That’s the pace we wanted to play at.”
Blackmon, Matthew Goolsby, and Rodney Gipson orchestrated a 16-8 run to start the second half, tying the contest up at 48-48. The Archers increased their lead back to seven with 2:08 to play in the quarter, but the Giants ended the stanza on a 12-4 surge, capping it off with a Blackmon field goal at the buzzer to give Marion a 63-62 advantage.
The two teams went back and forth over the first three minutes of the final quarter, and a successful three-point play by the Archers tied the contest at 72-72. However, the Giants buckled down defensively in the final 5:04, allowing just five more South Side points. Blackmon scored 12 points in the fourth quarter, including seven of the Giants’ final 11 points, to secure Marion’s victory.
Along with Blackmon’s remarkable performance, Goolsby played a major factor in Marion’s second-half turnaround. The Giants’ athletic, gifted center scored 15 points, nine of which came in the final two quarters, and led Marion with nine rebounds, taking it upon himself to be more aggressive on the boards after halftime.
After being doubled up on rebounds in the first half, Marion outrebounded South Side 15-8 in the second half, many of those coming from Goolsby.
“I preach to Matthew that that is something I think he can do every single game – it’s just the will of wanting to go out and get it done,” Blackmon said. “Tonight, he set the tone early. Tonight was one of those nights he wanted to stay on the floor.”
Josh Balfour also finished in double figures for the Giants, scoring 12 points, while Gipson finished with eight.
Marion will be back in action this coming weekend with a pair of contests against NCC foe Indianapolis Arsenal Tech and Class 4A No. 8 Indianapolis Crispus Attucks.
“We are going to come in next week and fine-tune some things defensively,” Blackmon said. “We’ve got a couple of big weeks coming up. We know Attucks is going to be a great team. That’s a team we learn from every year, but at the same time, it brings out the best in our team. Our guys will be fired up, and we are looking for the opportunity to compete for 32 minutes. That’s what we are looking for.”