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Jones' 3-pointers spark Giants in semis

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TRAPPED: Marion's Jalen Blackmon (1) and JK Thomas put the clamps on Angola's Jack Hilyard in the second half of the Giants' 59-38 win over the Hornets Saturday morning in Bill Green Arena.
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BLOCK PARTY: Marion's Qu'Ran Howard denies Angola's David Frank of a bucket in the first half of the Giants' 59-38 win in a Class 3A Marion Regional semifinal Saturday morning in Bill Green Arena.

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Opponents have started to get in the grills of Marion's Jalen Blackmon and JK Thomas as soon as they enter the gym. Saturday morning, RaSheed Jones made Angola pay for its defensive strategy.

Jones was left all alone in the Class 4A regional semifinal at Bill Green Arena and the tall, slender freshman drained a pair of 3-pointers that helped the Giants get off to a fast start that would lead to a 59-38 victory over Angola.

Marion improved to 18-7 and played 4A No. 1-ranked and unbeaten Delta Saturday night for the regional championship. Delta advanced with a 54-28 victory over Tippecanoe Valley and improved to 27-0.

Jones, a 6-foot-3 wing, has been maturing noticeably in front of Giants' fans and had one of his best all-around performances against Angola. He would finish with 17 points and also gathered five rebounds and passed out three assists.

"I'm just getting more comfortable every game, staying calm," Jones said.

He certainly was cool as a cucumber when he opened the game with a 3-point basket from the deep left corner, his favorite shooting spot, and then ended the first quarter with another corner '3' that put the Giants ahead 19-9 and thwarted Angola's game plan. The Hornets wanted to control tempo with a deliberate attack, but the Giants never allowed it to happen with their pressure defense and hot (7-of-11) early shooting.

Blackmon did knock down two 3-pointers in the opening quarter but once again was constantly double- and triple-teamed by Angola. The sophomore standout has been the state's third-leading scorer and averages 28.3 points, but he scored 13 against the Hornets on 4-of-10 shooting from 3-point range (4-of-12) overall and uncharacteristically struggled at the free throw line, hitting on 1-of-4 attempts.

After scoring two points in the opening quarter, Thomas hit a 3-pointer early in the second that staked the Giants to a 22-10 lead, and later a second in transition for a 30-19 advantage with 4:40 before halftime. Thomas had eight points in the second and also came up big down the stretch with seven more points, finishing with 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting and 4-of-6 at the foul line.

"We just wanted to come out and play our game and not play their tempo and we did," Thomas said, "I feel like we did great today.

"Teams have been focusing on me and Jalen and it's a relief to have another shooter like RaSheed,"  he added. "It feels like it's us two and we just play with each other and we play to each other's strengths."

Jones, who was 5-of-6 from 3-point range, scored 11 first half points in staking the Giants to a 35-18 halftime lead. In the second half he made one 3-pointer in the third and fourth quarters, the latter a step-back trey with a defender guarding closely and quelled an Angola comeback attempt.

"When they are going at JK and Jalen, I've got to step up. I know that I've just got to knock my shots down and be ready," Jones. "I've also got to be more than a jump shooter. I've got to help my team out in every way that I can."

Angola actually had a 7-5 lead on Blake Pocock's 3-pointer with 3:10 left in the first quarter, but Blackmon and Jones answered with back-to-back 3-pointers and Thomas drove through heavy traffic for a layup, making it 13-9 Marion. What followed was one of the best hustle plays by a Giant this season.

Dre Aguilar blocked a shot, then chased down the loose ball and flipped an outlet pass to Qu'Ran Howard while on his back. Howard drove in for a two-handed slam and converted a free throw to make it a three-point play and Marion led 16-9. Aguilar did not score a single point but hauled in six rebounds.

A sluggish third quarter when the Giants made 3-of-11 shots allowed the Hornets a chance to make the game interesting again. Pocock's second 3-pointer cut the deficit to 43-31, but then Thomas and Jones answered with their 3-point daggers to begin the fourth quarter and the Giants had an 18-point lead (49-31).

Angola coach Ed Bentley believed it was sound strategy to overplay Blackmon and Thomas but soon realized the Giants had too many players to defend.

"We were talking about Blackmon and Thomas, but they're talented all the way around," Bentley said. "If one guy watches one guy shoot it and he hits, that's contagious and I think that got to us a little bit.

"There were shots where we are right there and contested it, but good teams are going to hit good shots," he added. "We tried to get them to understand that in practice and don't get frustrated if they hit them; let's just keep playing and give us an opportunity."

Pocock was the only Angola player in double figures with 10 points, while Dyer Ball had eight points and nine rebounds. The Hornets finished with a 20-6 record.

Howard amassed nine points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots for the Giants. D'Angelo Jones' basket in the fourth quarter was the only bench points for Marion.