For 32 minutes on Saturday evening at the Bill Green Arena, the Marion Giants, battled with not only one of the top teams on their schedule, but with one of the top teams in the state of Indiana.
However, despite a 37-point outburst from Jalen Blackmon and strong defense against a team full of both size and athleticism, the Giants suffered their fourth loss of the season— an 87-74 defeat at the hands of the Indianapolis Crispus Attucks Tigers.
But even in defeat, Marion Head Coach James Blackmon was proud of how his team played against the No. 8 team in Class 4A.
“Sometimes, that scoreboard gives you a false sense of winning or losing,” Marion Head Coach James Blackmon said. “I was proud the way our guys competed against a very good team. We got down early after that first quarter, but we battled them pretty much even after that.”
After a slow first half in which he scored just seven points, Blackmon exploded after halftime, scoring an incredible 30 points. Against a physical Tigers’ team that bodied him consistently, Blackmon was aggressive offensively, driving to the hoop and finishing through contact, while also knocking three of the Giants’ six triples. After his performance on Saturday, Blackmon needs just nine points to pass three-time state champion and Marion Giant legend Jay Edward for second place on Marion’s all-time scoring list.
While the Tigers got their points, the Giants made them earn every basket. Marion forced Attucks into 13 turnovers, and on many occasions, the Giants forced the Tigers into poor shots.
But the difference came on the glass, as Attucks used their size and athleticism to create second and third chance opportunities.
“I just thought we didn’t quit,” Blackmon said. “We put pressure on those guys as well. We caused those guys to turn it over.”
In the first half, the Tigers outrebounded the Giants 25-14, which helped them build their double-digit advantage, and secured 38 rebounds total, 12 on the offensive glass.
“Second chance shots, transition buckets — those are big when you make a good defensive stop and all the sudden someone comes out of nowhere to get a putback,” Blackmon said. “We just can’t get into a tipping match with an athletic team.”
The Giants fell into a hole early, as the Tigers scored the first 10 points and held Marion off the scoreboard for nearly five minutes. In that span, the Giants missed their first nine shots. Marion was able to regroup, cutting the Attucks’ lead to 15-11 on a Blackmon three, but the Tigers were able to increase their advantage back to six, 18-12, after one quarter of play.
Attucks’ Jalen Hooks and Isaiah Stafford exploded in the second quarter offensively, combining to score 16 points and pushing the Tigers’ lead to 42-26 at halftime.
However, the Giants never backed down and began to push back in the third quarter.
The Tigers led by as many as 19 early in the stanza, but Blackmon’s strong shooting kept the Giants in striking distance. In the final 3:29, Marion outscored the Tigers 15-8, trimming their deficit to just eight points heading into the fourth quarter. Blackmon scored nine of those 15 points.
But the Giants would not get any closer. A Taden Metzger field goal in the opening moments cut the Attucks’ advantage down to eight once again, but the Tigers were able to pull away, extending their lead back to as many as 20 before securing the 13-point triumph.
Along with Blackmon’s stellar outing, Josh Balfour continued his strong season, finishing with 12 points to go along with six rebounds. Balfour has developed into a steady contributor for the Giants this season, and his size and athletic ability have made him into a capable scorer and rebounder.
Blackmon is pleased with his played, ??? particularly over the last few games.
“Josh has had a whole different attitude his whole senior year, even starting with football,” Blackmon said. “When you think about the consistency that he showed and the attitude he showed during the football season, it just carried over. He came with that same positive attitude. I thought he played a lot more confident than he did the year before, and he is stepping on the court giving 100 percent every single night.”
All five of the Tigers’ starters finished in double figures, led by Hooks’ 21 and Stafford’s 19. Hooks also finished with 11 rebounds.
Now, the focus shifts back to NCC play and an important matchup with longtime rival Anderson.
“We are going to bring the guys in on Monday, go over some stuff, and let their bodies rest,” Blackmon said. “We will get some shots up, shoot some free throws, and be ready for Tuesday night. Each game prepares us for the future, and I think we are prepared to go to Anderson and play a tough game.”