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Balance, defense lift Giants to conference win

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Playing with its best balance of the season, the Marion began the second half of the girls’ basketball season Friday evening with a dominating performance against Richmond in Bill Green Athletic Arena.

Four Giants finished in double figures with two collecting double-doubles and the Giants rolled past the Red Devils 54-30 to remain in contention for the North Central Conference championship. Ayana Harvey led with 14 points, which matched her career high.

Marion moved to 12-4, 5-1 in the NCC and remains one game behind unbeaten Lafayette Jeff, which posted a 73-40 victory Friday over Muncie Central. Richmond fell to 4-11, 2-3.

Jazmyn Turner contributed a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds and just missed a triple-double after amassing seven steals. RaShaya Kyle also had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, and Ellie Vermilion had 11 points before she exited with a knee problem.

Harvey, listed at 5-foot-11, worked around the basket and made 6-of-9 shot attempts and 2-of-3 free throws. On a team with 6-6 Kyle and 6-1 Turner, Giants coach Lawrence Jordan said Harvey is developing into their best post player.

“We’ve got to have more than two people scoring because everybody’s keying on RaShaya and Jazmyn,” Jordan said. “Ayana is really gifted and she’s my most fundamentally sound post player, and she’s better than Jazmyn and RaShaya when it comes to that.

“I told a couple college coaches once you see her in person you will see she’s a technician because somebody was working with her early, so she’s my third scoring option,” he added. “And also sprinkle in Ellie and you have four players capable of getting double figures every night.”

Harvey came in averaging 5.8 points and she matched a 14-point performance last year against McCutcheon.

“I have been working on (post moves) since last year and I keep going on and on and on and on with my moves and footwork,” Harvey said. “I just really try to listen to my coach and what he’s telling me and my dad and I keep working on it until I get better.”

Kyle had the Giants’ first basket and the game was stopped to recognize the junior for scoring her 1,000th point in the previous game Wednesday at Southwood. The Giants went on to a 13-2 advantage at the first break with their full-court and trapping zone defenses clearly rattling Richmond.

Marion ran off 13 straight points over the first and second quarters to open a 21-2 lead before Richmond’s Kierra Wright connected on a 3-pointer midway through the second quarter. With Turner and Vermilion scoring seven apiece and Harvey six, the Giants had a 26-12 halftime advantage.

Richmond finished with 23 turnovers and the Giants turned them into 23 points with 14 in transition. In contrast, Marion kept their turnovers under control until the fourth to finish with 16, which the Red Devils converted into five points.

“When we all work together and play defense nobody can beat us,” said Jackson, who helped spark the defensive pressure. “We only beat ourselves.”

Jackson had a solid floor game with six points, all in the third quarter, five steals and three assists. Jordan said Jackson and Turner are the two players most capable of turning up the Giants’ defensive pressure.

“Jazmyn creates a lot of problems with her length up top,” Jordan said. “And Markeisha is just all over the place, like a spider because really she’s not tall but she’s got an extra wide wing span. She’s very wiry and very athletic so she doesn’t get tired, and there are times she’s covering other girls’ positions, too.”

While Jackson averages 2.1 points, Jordan said her offensive game should develop when she enters Glen Oaks (Michigan) College next year. Jackson recently signed with the two-year school, and Harvey said Friday she may join her.

“I focus on my defense because everything else will fall into place,” Jackson said.

Jordan had two areas of concern despite the lopsided win: Vermilion’s injury and a complacent fourth quarter when Richmond scored as many points (14) as it had through 24 minutes (16). According to Jordan, Vermilion tweaked the knee making a steal and scoring a layup and did not play in the fourth quarter.

“I’m scared to death right now,” Jordan said of Vermilion. “I’ve only got five girls right now - Olivia Aguilar will be coming back after 4-5 days - but right now we’re short with the numbers and I’m hoping it don’t swell up.

“... I started seeing her limping and favoring it and that’s when I took her out,” he added. “I told her I’d rather have you rest right now and get you ready for the sectionals and conference championship in a couple of weeks.”

Wright led Richmond with 19 points featuring five 3-pointers including three in the fourth quarter. Zoee Woolridge had eight points and only one other Richmond player scored.

Marion hosts Mississinewa at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The Giants currently have nine players and have discontinued junior varsity games for the remainder of the season.