Playing down two starters, and their head coach, the shorthanded Marion Giants performed valiantly against star forward Brooks Barnhizer and a talented Lafayette Jefferson squad on Friday night.
Despite the lack of key players and personnel at their disposal — leading scorer Jalen Blackmon, top rebounder Jermaine Woods, and Head Coach James Blackmon, who missed the contest due to COVID-19 contact tracing protocol – the Giants went toe-to-toe with the Bronchos, particularly in the first half.
However, a tremendous performance from Barnhizer, and a strong second half for the Bronchos overall, proved to be the difference, as the Giants fell to 5-5 with a 78-61 loss to their longtime NCC rival.
For the first time in over 20 years, Marion assistant coach Herb McPherson, an Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame member, took the reins and was pleased with what he saw throughout the evening, especially in the first two quarters.
“We ran the same sets that Coach Blackmon runs,” McPherson said. “We played a little man-to-man defense and got after them a little bit. I think Coach Blackmon would be proud of the way they played, [and] I was very proud of them. We spaced the floor, we penetrated, and we did well running the offense. We missed some easy shots, but overall I thought our kids put forth a really great effort. I was proud of the way they balanced the floor and moved the ball.”
Every player who touched the floor for the Giants made a significant contribution.
Cubie Jones set the tone for the Giants in the first quarter. Offensively, Jones scored seven points, while collecting five rebounds and two steals on defense.
Freshman Taden Metzger, in his first start for Marion, impressed on both ends throughout the contest. Metzger scored 14 points, including eight points in the third quarter.
“That’s a game he should remember,” McPherson said. “When you start as a freshman, you remember where you started at, how many points you got, and everything else. He is going to be an outstanding player, no doubt about it. He has all the tools to be one of the greats that come out of Marion.”
Matt Goolsby, who has worked diligently to rediscover his scoring touch after a few tough outings, played with confidence, scoring 11 points, which included an emphatic dunk in the third quarter.
But the most impressive player on the floor was Josh Balfour, who continues to elevate his game throughout his senior campaign. Balfour led the Giants with 15 points and six rebounds, and McPherson was impressed with all factors of his play.
“I said, ‘Josh, you are going to play all the time. Might take you out to take a drink of water, but you have to be a leader out there, and penetrate, dish, and make things happen.’ And he did,” McPherson said. “He did a good job. He just has to continue doing that for the rest of the year.”
Marion and Lafayette Jefferson hung tight with one another throughout the first two quarters. The Bronchos took an 18-16 lead after the first quarter and a 37-35 advantage after the second.
However, after halftime, Jefferson began to run their offense through Barnhizer, and the Giants, despite playing sound defense, were unable to contain him.
After scoring 20 in the first half, Barnhizer scored 13 points in the third quarter, shooting four-of-five from the field, including a pair of triples. Whether he was beyond the arc or in the paint, the Northwestern-commit found a way to put the ball in the basket, and it helped the Bronchos increase their lead from two to 10 after the third quarter of play. Lafayette started the second half on a 12-5 run and controlled the game from that point forward.
“I was really proud of them defensively,” McPherson said. “We wore down a little bit, and Barnhizer is a great player. He’s a big-time player. He’s tough, and he’s hard to stop, but I thought overall, we did a pretty good job on them, really. He’s a great scorer. He can play in the Big 10, no doubt about that. He’s a good one. He’s top notch.”
In the fourth quarter, the Giants’ offense went cold, scoring just three points in the first five minutes of the frame. Barnhizer and the Bronchos took full advantage, pulling away to secure the 17-point triumph.
Barnhizer led the way for Lafayette Jefferson, scoring 41 points to go along with 15 rebounds and five assists, while Ashton Beaver was second with 15 points. Jahsiah Kirk-Williams rounded out the Bronchos’ double-digit scorers with 12.
Despite the loss, the Giants showed heart and determination on Friday night. Now, McPherson hopes those attributes carry over into their game with Lewis Cass on Saturday, and beyond.
“We are going to have to do the same thing,” McPherson said. “We will come out with energy, I’m sure. We are going to have to play that hard, man-to-man, half-court defense, and then, we’ve got to space the floor, move [the ball], and make good passes.”