The Marion Giants’ home opener against Fort Wayne North Side on Saturday evening was a physical affair.
The Legends did everything they could to throw the Giants off their game. Between whistles, players jawed at one another, and on one occasion, a minor scuffle broke out that required quelling by officials.
But in the end, Marion remained unfazed and played their style of basketball, coming back from an early 10-point deficit to defeat the Legends 71-52.
Saturday night’s contest was a special one for both Marion star point guard Jalen Blackmon and his father, Marion Head Coach James Blackmon.
Blackmon, after a slow start, which saw him miss his first two three-point attempts, finished with 30 points, passing former Marion and NBA great Zach Randolph for fourth place on Marion all-time scoring list.
As of Saturday, Blackmon sits at 1,633 points. Only Lyndon Jones (1,711), Jay Edwards (1,860), and James Blackmon (1,897) have scored more points in a Marion uniform.
Additionally, Coach Blackmon recorded his 121st head coaching victory at the helm of the Giants’ program, passing Moe Smedley for fourth place all-time. Only Jack Colescott (122), Woodrow “Woody” Weir (163), and of course, the legendary Bill Green (315) have won more games as the head coach of the Marion boys basketball program.
While the Giants came away with a fairly comfortable victory, the game got off to a bit of an inauspicious start. The Legends came out firing, scoring the game’s first 10 points in the opening two minutes of the contest. North Side’s gifted freshman guard Braunte Johnson scored a pair of baskets in the paint, while Ryan Collins knocked down a corner three in the early stages.
Marion would not score their first point until the 5:36 mark on a free throw from Matthew Goolsby and were held without a field goal for the first 5:22 of the contest.
However, freshman Taden Metzger hit a corner three of his own to provide the Giants a much-needed spark on both ends of the floor.
“Our game is played over 32 minutes,” Marion Head Coach James Blackmon said. “They are a very talented team. I thought they came out and really attacked us, but…we weren’t defending. We weren’t stopping the ball. But I thought once we started playing defense and once we settled down, we were able to finish out that first quarter.”
After switching from their half-court defense to their full-court press, the momentum of the contest shifted in Marion’s favor, which allowed the Giants to assume control.
“We slowed them down a little bit when we went into [our press,]” Blackmon said. “[After that,] I think we took control of the tempo of the ball game.”
The Giants ended the first quarter on a 13-0 run, cutting the Legends’ lead to 17-16, and outscored the Legends 18-9 in the second to take an eight-point lead at halftime. Blackmon was a key factor, making three of his four three-point attempts in the stanza.
Fort Wayne North Side was able to trim the Marion advantage to four points at 36-32 early in the third quarter, but Metzger made several crucial baskets that kept the Giants in the drivers’ seat. His second three of the evening put the Giants back up by seven, and back-to-back makes later in the stanza, including a successful three-point play, firmly put the contest in Marion’s hands.
The Giants’ lead never fell below six points the rest of the way.
“I expect those guys to continue to grow,” Blackmon said of his bench. “We have guys that bring different things in. If we continue to get guys coming off the bench that give us those types of minutes, the sky’s the limit for our ball club.”
In the fourth quarter, the Giants got to the line 17 times due to the Legends’ over aggressiveness on defense, and closed the contest out with authority, knocking down 14. Blackmon went to the line 10 times in the final eight minutes, finishing with nine makes.
“When we have a team down, and we just run our offense, take care of the ball, and go to the line and make our free throws, we win those games,” Blackmon said. “We did that down the stretch. We took our time and didn’t turn the ball over. That’s how you finish a ball game off.”
Along with Blackmon’s 30 points, Metzger finished with 16 points for the Giants off the bench. Rodney Gipson scored seven points, while Jake McCarthy finished with 10. Jermaine Woods only scored two points but led the effort on the boards with nine rebounds.