An emphasis on total team effort has carried the Marion Giants throughout their current win streak.
And a total team effort on Friday night at the Bill Green Arena was the biggest factor in their fourth straight triumph.
Lengthy scoring stretches in the first half and fourth quarter, combined with balanced scoring, proved to be the difference, as the Giants improved to 2-1 in the NCC with a 73-52 victory over the Indianapolis Arsenal Tech Titans.
Josh Balfour knocked down the first shot of the game to kick things off, but the Titans responded with eight straight points, as Hunter Jackson knocked down back-to-back triples and Terrell Adetunji followed with a field goal of his own.
But after that, the Giants began to settle in on both ends of the floor, and very quickly, they assumed control.
Marion’s offense began to establish a rhythm, while their defense did a great job on the boards, holding the Titans to one shot on many of their offensive possessions. From the midway point of the first quarter to the midway point of the second, the Giants put the ball in the basket seemingly at will, outscoring the Titans, 24-4, to turn an 8-2 deficit into a 26-12 lead.
“I knew playing Tech, this game was going to be played [quickly,]” Marion Head Coach James Blackmon said. “They are a fast team. Their thing is to try and turn you over. Their thing is to try to attack the rim in transition. I thought we did a good job of eliminating those second shots, [and] I thought we did a good job for the most part of getting back and eliminating those easy buckets for those guys. The gameplan was to keep them in front of us, and I thought they did a good job of following the gameplan.”
Arsenal Tech finally found their offense in the latter half of the second stanza, scoring eight more points, but the Giants finished strong, taking a 36-20 lead at the intermission.
Balfour was tremendous in the first half, scoring 10 points and logging seven rebounds, while Jalen Blackmon was second on the Giants with nine.
The Giants kept up the pace in the third quarter, leading by double digits throughout, but the Titans slowly, but surely, chipped away at the lead, cutting it to 52-40 at the end of the third quarter.
The Titans shot very well in the stanza, knocking down seven of their 13 shots to cut into Marion’s advantage. The Giants, on the other end, hit just five of their 16 attempts from the field.
Arsenal Tech kept up their momentum in the early stages of the fourth quarter, hitting four of their first five shots to cut the Giants’ lead to 54-49.
But with their winning streak in jeopardy, Marion kept their resolve, and for the rest of the contest, they dominated.
“We just got away from what got us that lead,” Blackmon said. “We wanted those guys to play defense, and sometimes when you pull the brakes…I thought [Tech] did a good job defensively forcing turnovers. Tech is a great team – they can score in bundles – and they did. They went on a nice little run, but we kept our poise. I just let them play through that little run that they had. Guys executed and made shots, and that extended the lead back up for us.”
The Giants’ defense held the Titans to just more four points the rest of the way, while the stellar play of Blackmon, Balfour, Quran Howard, and freshman Rasheed Jones helped Marion close the game out with authority.
Blackmon, despite not shooting the ball particularly well, made up for it at the foul line, scoring 14 of his team-high 24 points at the charity stripe.
Balfour played one of his best games as a Giant, scoring 15 points and securing 10 rebounds and making plays on both ends of the floor. Howard, who has really improved upon his game in recent weeks, came away with his own double-double, recording 14 points and 10 rebounds to go along with a game-high seven blocks. Jones continues to develop as a capable shooter, scoring 14 points and knocking down several crucial treys.
“Josh in an energy guy,” Blackmon said. “He did a great job on the boards. He can attack the rim, and I thought he did that tonight. Rasheed is one of those guys who have good size and handle the ball well. He showed that tonight. Once we space the floor, he can stay out there and knock shots down. I thought everybody played within their strengths. They moved the ball, and they had confidence in each other.”
Jackson led the Titans with 14 points, while Mason Moore was second with 13, 10 coming in the second half.
The Giants have a string of tough games next weekend, playing NCC foe Lafayette and Greenwood on back-to-back nights. But right now, Marion is brimming with confidence, and Blackmon is looking for that to continue.
“It’s fun,” Blackmon said. “Practice is fun, and the guys enjoy each other. We don’t have the attitudes and we aren’t dealing with any attitudes. That gives you more time to be more productive in practice. We are more efficient, because we are not wasting time. If we continue to challenge these guys…and continue to clean things up, next week we will be a better team.”