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Cardine's 3-pointers spark Giants to win

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GIANTS: Marion's Ellie Vermilion drives to the basket in the Giants' 48-36 season-opening win over Pendleton Heights Tuesday evening.
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GIANTS: Marion's RaShaya Kyle drives towards the basketball in the first half of the Giants' 48-36 win over Pendleton Heights Tuesday night in Bill Green Arena.

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Ashanti Cardine's first varsity start had been very quiet Tuesday evening until the start of the fourth quarter.

Left all alone in the left corner, Cardine knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers that gave Marion the lead for good and sparked the Giants to a 48-36 season-opening victory over Pendleton Heights in Bill Green Arena.

"It was a spark that got us going," RaShaya Kyle said of Cardine. "She's a JV player coming up this year scoring big points. It was very exciting when she hit them. She came through in the clutch and I was so down for it."

Kyle, an Indiana Miss Basketball candidate, collected 19 points and 18 rebounds to lead the Giants. The 6-foot-6 Purdue University recruit made her presence known defensively and helped limit the Arabians to 22.6 percent field goal shooting.

"Actually, I think we're still going to be pretty good," Kyle said. "We got to compromise some. We don't have 'Jaz' (Jazmyn Turner) and Markeisha (Jackson) and Ayana (Harvey) but we can to work around that and we have a lot of shooters and me on the inside. I feel like we're still going to be pretty good."

Coming off a 23-5 season and having graduated three starters, the Giants sported a different look but still had two main pieces. Kyle still dominates around the basket, and point guard Ellie Vermilion plays with savvy.

A new supporting cast must come through for the Giants, and Cardine and Olivia Aguilar did that against the Arabians with their 3-point shooting. But entering the fourth quarter the Giants were in a 29-27 deficit and seemingly perplexed about how to combat the Arabians' aggressive full-court defensive pressure.

By overplaying Kyle and Vermilion, the Arabians left Cardine free to stand in the corner. Cardine had not scored and was in a bit of foul trouble, yet she never hesitated to hoist a 3-pointer and drained the shot in the opening moments of the fourth quarter to give the Giants a 30-29 lead.

Cardine's basket triggered an 11-0 run with Kyle scoring in the post and Aguilar sinking her third 3-pointer of the game. After the Arabians finally scored, Cardine answered with her second 3-pointer and a long-range 2-pointer from the key and in the blink of an eye Marion led 40-31 midway through the final quarter.

"I had to be ready to shoot," Cardine said. "I like playing with my teammates and RaShaya and Ellie are seniors who are going to lead us. We got to do what we need to do."

Marion ran off another eight straight points after Cardine's baskets for a 48-31 advantage with two minutes to play. Vermilion was big during this stretch with two steals leading to a layup and she went on to finish with 10 points, four assists and four steals.

"This year is different and I'm not sure how people are going to view us," Giants coach Lawrence Jordan said. "But I still think we're going to be really successful, it's just going to be done in a different way.

"I've got four shooters and when they start double- and triple-teaming on RaShaya and selling out, Ashanti and the other girls know they are to take those shots. I sat there in practice (Monday) and Ashanti knocked down  seven, eight, nine in a row at the same basket. So I'm not afraid for her to take them."

Aguilar finished with nine points and Cardine eight - all in the fourth quarter. The Giants had a commanding 44-29 rebounding advantage and shot 41 percent from the floor (18-of-44), but ballhandling was an issue with 25 turnovers to the Arabians' 15.

Aubree Dwiggins, a 5-11 senior forward, led Pendleton Heights with 16 points while playing in foul trouble and Megan Mills was next with 10 points.