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Lady Giants' toughness leads to final four

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Scott Hunt/shunt@chronicle-tribune.comTOUGH LOVE: Marion girls basketball coach Lawrence Jordan instructs the Lady Giants during a timeout in the Norwell Sectional. The Giants have adopeted their coach's toughness and have earned a trip to the Class 3A final four because of it.
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TOUGH LOVE: Marion girls basketball coach Lawrence Jordan instructs the Lady Giants during a timeout in the Norwell Sectional. The Giants have adopeted their coach's toughness and have earned a trip to the Class 3A final four because of it.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

Driving home from Columbia City Saturday night provided a good opportunity to reflect on what I'd witnessed a little over an hour before.

Some may think the stars perfectly aligned for Marion's girls basketball team, and in some respects they did.

Winning basketball games, tournament championship games, and in this instance, the Giants rallying from 46-40 down with 47 seconds to play against Angola certainly involved some good fortune.

But it was far from lucky.

Marion coach Lawrence Jordan is a self-admitted task master. "Details matter" is something he's tried to ingrain into the Lady Giants in his two years as coach.

Simply put, Jordan is tough on the girls. At times, really tough.

Marion's girls have accepted his toughness and bought into his coaching style. Jordan's heart wants what's best for his players, and his passion often comes across as tough love.

The Lady Giants have also adopted Jordan's toughness into their playing style, into their own personality as a team.

“It's tough, but when you want to win and you want to go further and you want to go somewhere, you will receive the coaching and take it,” said senior Markeisha Jackson after Marion's practice on Thursday.

Marion's toughness - both mentally and physically - was the difference against Angola in Saturday’s regional championship game.

Marion's cheerleaders split up onto each side of the court during a timeout in the last minute and the rallying cry of “Giants fight” reigned down from one side of the bleachers while the other side boomed out “Never die”

Meanwhile, Jordan disappeared into the huddle with the Lady Giants down six and gave his team a simple message.

“Just to relax,” said senior Jazmyn Turner. “Keep playing what we're doing and don't stop until the clock says double zero.”

Turner was sensational throughout the game, but her performance in the final minute will be long remembered.

She drained a corner three with 35 seconds to play to give the Giants renewed hope, and trim the deficit to three. Hope grew stronger when Angola sophomore Hanna Knoll managed just one-of-two free throws with 32 seconds left to put the Hornets up 47-43.

Knoll was sensational as well, scoring 13 of her game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter, and she was almost single-handedly responsible for putting Angola on top for the first time all game with just under five minutes to play.

Turner made an aggressive drive and banked in a shot from in close with 17 seconds to play, trimming Angola's lead to 47-45.

Junior Kayla Fenstermaker then hit just one of her two free throws with 16 seconds remaining to extend Angola's lead back to three. But, it made the once improbable situation faced by the Giants doable.

Marion quickly worked the ball around the perimeter before it settled into the hands of junior Ellie Vermilion, who was whacked across the arms as she attempted to put up a potential game-tying three with seven seconds to play.

The shot barely left Vermilion's hands, but earned her the opportunity to tie the game at the free throw line, and she calmly drained all three.

Knoll raced up court with a chance to win it for Angola, but RaShaya Kyle's third blocked shot of the night sent the game into overtime with a enormous boost of momentum for the Giants.

Kyle's one-of-two free throws just 14 seconds into the extra period gave Marion a 49-48 advantage, and the Giants wouldn't trail again.

Vermilion's only field goal of the game came after a steal and driving layup, with it came a 51-48 lead.

Angola's lone field goal of overtime came with 1:05 to play, trimming Marion's lead back to one.

Jackson put the Giants back up by three with a pair of free throws with 40.8 seconds remaining.

Fenstermaker made two free throws with 9.6 seconds left making it one-point game, but Turner finished it off seconds later.

Turner went to the line with 7.3 seconds left and missed both shots, but she knew the second one was short and darted around a pair of Angola players to retrieve the rebound and laid the ball softly off the glass and through the net for the 55-52 final.

Turner scored 13 of her team-high 25 in the fourth quarter and overtime. She also had nine rebounds and three steals. Kyle added 15 points and 11 rebounds. Vermilion had three big steals to go along with her clutch free throws.

All six of the Giants that played had a hand in advancing to the final four. It wasn't flawless all game but nearly flawless over the last five minutes. It was paying attention to details, fighting to the end and making every play necessary to come out on top.

And just a sprinkle of good fortune as well.

“It was a total team effort,” said Jordan postgame, sweating as if he'd been running up and down the floor himself. “It's been a great ride. I'm so proud of this group of girls and the coaching staff, and we're not satisfied. We're tying to go cut that net down in Indianapolis.”

Few people in Indiana will give the Lady Giants a chance to get those nets in Indianapolis. A date with defending Class 3A champion and current No. 1 Northwestern awaits in Logansport on Saturday at 7 p.m.

It won't be easy for Marion, but winning championships isn't supposed to be easy.

Rest assured, though, if toughness factors into the outcome, the Lady Giants will give Northwestern all it can handle. And then some.