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Lawrence North stems Giants comeback bid

GIANTS: Jalen Blackmon drives through Lawrence North defenders on his way to two of his 34 points Friday night in Bill Green Arena. The Wildcats outlasted the Giants 67-59. Marion will host Homstead at 7:30 p.m. today.

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Marion dug a hole too deep to climb out of Friday evening no matter how hard the Giants tried to fight back.

After spotting Lawrence North a 21-point lead (45-24) midway through the third quarter, the Giants were one or two plays away in the final minute. But the Jack Keefer-coached Wildcats held on for a 67-59 boys’ basketball victory in Bill Green Arena.

“We lost on the scoreboard, but we showed some things that can make us a winning team,” Marion coach James Blackmon said after the Class 3A sixth-ranked Giants dropped to 1-1.

Jalen Blackmon set a career high of 34 points and knocked down 16-of-17 free throws, compensating for a tepid shooting performance. The sophomore guard was 2-of-6 from 3-point range and 8-of-16 overall.

“I missed a lot of shots from the 3-point line that I’m going to have to go back and correct and get back in the gym and fix,” Jalen Blackmon said.

Yet, he was at his best in the second half and especially in the fourth quarter in leading a Giants comeback. Marion parlayed 15-of-17 free throw shooting and full-court defensive pressure helped force six Lawrence North turnovers that allowed the Giants to creep back into the game.

Jalen knocked down two free throws with 43 seconds left - he was 8-of-9 in the fourth quarter alone - that pulled the Giants to within 63-59 but could get no closer. A bad pass with the Giants behind 64-59 and a couple of rushed 3-point shots down the stretch allowed the Wildcats to hold on.

Foul trouble plagued the Giants and top inside players Dre Aguilar and Qu’Ran Howard sat for considerable amounts of time. Aguilar produced six points and seven rebounds and Howard fouled out after collecting two points, three rebounds and three blocked shots.

And with JK Thomas out with a broken ankle, the Giants were severely limited offensively outside of Jalen Blackmon. Yet, some reserves like De’Angelo Jones and Louis Guerrero helped fuel the comeback with their energy and hustle.

“We had a lot of firepower off of the bench,” Jalen said. “Dre and Qu’Ran were in foul trouble early, but we were able get back in the game and guys off the bench stepped up like De’Angelo and Louis and brought us a lot of hustle.”

Coach Blackmon also noticed the play of the newcomers.

“Definitely, we learned a lot about our team,” he said. “(Lawrence North) has got young guys, too, and if you look at them they had two seniors. Both teams are trying to do the same thing and build for the future.”

Tony Perkins, a 6-foot-4 junior, was an irritant to the Giants throughout and finished with 28 points on 9-of-11 shooting and scoring everywhere from 3-point shots to inside the paint. Perkins also knocked down 11-of-15 free throw attempts.

Jared Hankins was one of the Wildcats seniors and he added 17 points including two early 3-pointers.  

Lawrence North, ranked 16th in Class 4A, bombed three consecutive 3-pointers for a 9-0 lead to start the game and gave Oak Hill alum Keefer his 718th coaching win. But the start of the third quarter was what really buried the Giants.

The Wildcats started the second half on a 19-4 run with Perkins and Hankins doing all the damage and open a 45-24 lead. The Giants were only able to whittle their deficit to 48-33 heading into the fourth quarter.

“I thought at the beginning of the third quarter we came out and gave up too many transition buckets,” coach Blackmon said. “That was one of the things we wanted to eliminate, the easy buckets, and one of the things we want to try to improve on. 

“We just have to get back in our defense,” he added. “I thought we did come back and did a good job in our traps, but a couple times they executed well and those are things we will take away from this game.”

RaSheed Jones, a freshman, was the only other Giant in double figures with 10 points.

Marion won the JV game 49-39.

The Giants host Homestead at 7:30 p.m. today.