Coming into Saturday night’s battle with the Indianapolis Cathedral Irish, the last time the Marion Giants had played a competitive basketball game was before the Christmas break.
The Irish, on the other hand, had played five games in that same stretch, including a 91-88 victory over Avon the night before.
“Our last game was on December 22. We were on a five or six game winning streak,” Marion Head Coach James Blackmon said. “During the Christmas break, we definitely want to get kids some time off to spend with their families, but not having a game until January 4th, [that’s] a big gap.”
A sluggish start quickly put the Giants behind the eight ball, and while the heroics of Jalen Blackmon and JK Thomas pushed the game to overtime, poor free throw shooting, combined with some missed shots in close, proved costly, as Marion was defeated by the Irish 85-80.
Both teams struggled to score early on, but the Giants wouldn’t score their first bucket until the 3:35 mark of the first quarter on a Rasheed Jones three. Marion only scored six points the rest of the quarter, as the Irish took a 17-9 lead.
In the second quarter, the Giants’ offense woke up, scoring 29 points, 20 of them coming from Blackmon. Blackmon opened the quarter five straight points, cutting Cathedral’s advantage to 17-14, but Grant Taueg responded with a triple, putting the Irish back up by six.
Rasheed Jones, D’Angelo Jones, and Blackmon followed with back-to-back-to-back threes for the Giants, but the Irish continued to keep the Giants at bay. Sophomore Peter Moe, who went on to have a solid game off the bench for the Irish, knocked down a pair of free throws, and a triple shortly after by Tayshawn Comer increased Cathedral’s advantage back to seven.
Blackmon then put the Giants on his back, scoring Marion’s final 11 points of the half and briefly giving Marion the lead, before Jalen Johnson hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to give Cathedral a 40-38 lead at halftime.
While the Giants ended up shooting 61 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc, they shot just five-of-nine from the free throw line, a theme that would carry over into the second half.
“I thought we put ourselves in a [good] position, but we have to take advantage of free throws,” Blackmon said. “We left a lot of free throws out there.”
The third quarter was close, with neither team leading by more than five points. Blackmon scored 10 more points, and the Giants took the lead on three separate occasions, but they were unable to pull away. The Irish always had a response, and after the Giants pulled ahead 54-53 on another basket from Blackmon, they ended the quarter on a 9-3 run, taking a 62-57 lead into the fourth frame.
A three from Rasheed Jones, a field goal from Thomas, and yet another triple from Blackmon put the Giants up 65-64, but moments later, the contest completely changed.
Attacking the rim on the Giants’ next possession, Blackmon appeared to bang knees with another player and immediately went to the ground, writhing in pain for several minutes. He walked off under his own power, and came back into the game several times, but he never regained control of the offense and it was clear he was in pain.
“When you take our playmaker out, that takes a lot away from us,” Blackmon said. “With the outcome of the game, we would have much rather had him down the stretch.”
JK Thomas, after scoring just eight points in the first three quarters, took the mantle from Blackmon, scoring 15 points in the fourth.
“I thought JK did some incredible stuff as far as making his shot,” Coach Blackmon said.
Furthermore, Thomas scored the last 13 points for the Giants, saving his best shot for last. In a thrilling sequence in the final minute of regulation, Thomas scored to tie the game at 75-75, Taueg answered with a three on the other end, and Thomas then sent the Marion faithful into a crenzy, knocking down a corner three to send the game into overtime.
Unfortunately, the Giants were unable to carry their momentum over into the extra session, as the Irish outscored Marion 7-2 to secure the victory.
The Giants ended up shooting 48.2 percent from the floor (26-of-61), but they were just 14-of-24 from inside the arc, missing several easy layups throughout the contest. Furthermore, they were just 13-of-24 from the line, a woeful 54.2 percent.
The two teams combined to take 63 threes in the game, with both teams knocking down 13 of their 32 attempts.
Blackmon, Thomas, and Rasheed Jones combined for 74 of Marion’s 80 points. Blackmon ended his night with 36 points, Thomas 25, and Jones 13.
Taueg scored 28 points to lead Cathedral, while Moe and Comer each finished with 18.