On Saturday night in Elkhart, the Marion Giants battled from start to finish against one of the most athletic and physical teams they had seen all year in the Class 3A northern semi-state contest.
But some big buckets and free throws down the stretch, combined with an ineffective Marion offense, proved to be the difference, as the Culver Academies Eagles ended the game on a 10-0 run and advanced to their second straight championship game with a 57-44 victory.
The defensive prowess of both teams was on full display in the first quarter, as they combined for just 14 points in the opening eight minutes. The game was tied at 6-6 heading into the final minute of play, but Culver’s Trey Galloway scored off a steal in transition to give the Eagles an 8-6 advantage.
Marion committed five turnovers in the quarter and shot just three-for-nine, but held their own on the defensive end, limiting the Eagles to just four-for-11 shooting from the field.
Field goals from Johnny Cohen and Jordan Freeman put the Eagles up 13-6 early in the second quarter, but the Giants answered with six straight to cut Culver’s lead to one. JK Thomas started the rally with a field goal, freshman Rasheed Jones followed with his first basket of the contest, and Quran Howard knocked down two free throws.
Deontae Craig and Freeman hit back-to-back field goals to put the Eagles back up by three, but Thomas countered with this third basket of the game to make it a 17-16 Culver lead at halftime.
Craig finished with six points and three rebounds in the first half, while Galloway finished with four points. Thomas led the Giants with six points, while Howard recorded four to go along with eight rebounds.
Marion star sophomore Jalen Blackmon was a non-factor in the opening 16 minutes, scoring just two points. In the first half, the Giants made just seven total field goals as a team.
The Eagles began the second half with a triple and a free throw, increasing their lead to five, but a field goal from Blackmon followed by a three from Thomas tied the game up at 21-21. It was Marion’s first three-pointer of the contest.
The two teams traded baskets the rest of the stanza, with neither team leading by more than four points. Craig recorded back-to-back field goals late in the frame to put the Eagles up by two possessions, but Thomas’ second trey made it 31-30 heading into the fourth quarter.
Blackmon converted an and-one opportunity early in the final frame to give the Giants their first lead since the opening quarter at 36-33, but their advantage proved to be short-lived. Culver responded with an 8-0 run, which included two baskets from Ethan Brittain-Watts, to make it 41-36 with 3:30 left.
Blackmon’s first triple of the game cut Culver’s advantage to 47-44 with under two minutes to play, but the Giants would not get any closer. The Eagles scored the final 10 points of the contest to secure the victory and end Marion’s season.
In the final quarter, the Eagles shot seven-of-11 from the floor and outscored the Giants 26-14, while Marion shot just four-for-12 from the floor.
Craig finished the game with 21 points and nine rebounds, while Galloway recorded 15 points and six boards for the Eagles.
Thomas led the Giants with 17 points and seven field goals made, while Blackmon finished with 15 and Howard, playing in his final game, added six points to go along with 11 rebounds.
Marion ended their 2018-2019 campaign with a 19-8 record.