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Giants ready for battle with Culver

GIANTS: Marion coach James Blackmon goes over details for the next two days with the Giants near the end of Thursday's practice. Marion will face defending Class 3A state champion Culver Academies Saturday at 6 p.m. in Elkhart inthe Northern Semistate for a spot in the 3A title game on March 23 in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

Just one game stands between the Marion boys basketball team and a trip to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and the Giants' opponent Saturday in the Class 3A Northern Semistate is already familiar with the path that leads there.

Defending 3A state champion Culver Academy (23-3) is next up in the Giants' pursuit to hang a ninth banner in Bill Green Arena, and the No. 3 Eagles are sure to provide a formidable challenge.  

When the game tips off around 6:45 p.m. Saturday in the 7,000-plus Elkhart North Side Gym, the formula Giants' coach James Blackmon will use against the defending champs won't vary much from what they've done all season, and done particularly well in the postseason.

"Be tough on defense. Be physical," Blackmon said after Thursday's practice. "We've got to keep our composure. That game is going to be played in runs, so we've got to stay in and for 32 solid minutes be tough. If we show mental toughness and stay tough on the defensive end, I think we can take them."

The Giants have surrendered less than 37 points a game in their four tournament wins and will try to slow down a Culver team that averages 61.7 points.

Junior Trey Galloway, son of Culver coach Mark Galloway, leads the Eagles at 16.7 points per game. Senior Ethan Brittain-Watts, who'll play at Boston University next year, scores 15.7 points. Junior Deonte Craig (13.2 ppg), a high division I level football recruit who averages nearly eight rebounds, gives Culver three double digit scorers and makes up half of Coach Galloway's predominantly six-man rotation.

Blackmon thinks part of the Giants' key to winning will be to creating a faster pace to the game with their defense.

"We just can't let six guys come down and dictate the tempo of the ballgame," Blackmon said. "You can't let those guys get into their halfcourt sets, because if they get into their halfcourt sets and start controlling the tempo, they're a very disciplined team. They're a very aggressive team in their halfcourt defense.

"We've got to make it a full-court game. We've got to make those guys get back and defend in transition and we've got to attack," he added. That's going to be key for us all night."

Galloway, a 6-5 guard, and the 6-1 Brittain-Watts will be where the defensive attention starts for Marion.

"Our focus main focus is contain those two and make other guys step up," Blackmon said. "They're a good team and they play well together so we're going to try make some of those other guys that are averaging seven or eight points, make some of those other guys be players."

Blackmon believes a big advantage for the Giants could be depth if they can get the tempo to their liking.

Depth gave Marion a huge advantage in the regional championship over Delta on Saturday as starters J.K. Thomas and Qu'Ran Howard played few minutes in the second half.

The experience many of Marion's younger players gained early in the season while Thomas and Dre Aguilar were out rehabbing injuries paid off in big dividends down the stretch against Delta.

"I thought it made all the difference in the world," Blackmon said. "You look at the time that Josh (Balfour) got early when Dre was hurt, D'Angelo (Jones) and Louis (Guerrero) getting those minutes early in the year, I felt like in that type situation there wasn't pressure for them. They were just used to it so they were able to go out there and contribute and play hard because they've been in that situation before.

"We needed that energy. We played a tough game early. Angola was a really good team and we jumped on those guys early," he added. "Then you come back and play a different style game, I thought our guys were tired just like (Delta), so that energy we had coming off the bench I felt like down the stretch it gave us a little more energy and a little bit more aggression defensively to create those stops."

 

The Giants took a trip Wednesday to the North Side Gym for a practice session and Blackmon was pleased with how the team responded to the travel with a focused workout.

Ultimately the game will be decided by which team executes what it wants to do the best, and the Giants are ready for the challenge. 

 

 "I believe our team is capable of winning state, you know, it's just a matter of executing on defense and on and off the court," said senior Dre Aguilar. "Coach Blackmon gives us the gameplan and I trust all of them, Coach Blackmon, Coach (Steve) Turner and Coach (Nate) McNeeley. It's just a matter of us executing. We've got to make sure we stay focused during school and during practice. 

"They've got two main scorers so we zone those two guys out and focus on that defense, it will lead into our offense, naturally," Aguilar added. "I think we'll be comfortable."