More than 60 years had passed since Marion and Noblesville last squared off in a high school boys’ basketball game, but the Millers and Giants battled one another like old rivals Tuesday night in Bill Green Arena.
The game featured 11 ties and 17 lead changes, with the final four swaps occurring in the last two minutes.
Jalen Blackmon added another memorable moment, and game, to his legacy in providing the game’s final lead change.
The Giants led by one with only 13 seconds remaining when Blackmon was whistled for an illegal screen on an inbound play under the bucket on Nobleville’s offensive end. The Millers perfectly executed an inbound play that netted a layup for Noah Harris that left the Giants down one with a running clock and no time outs remaining.
Blackmon inbounded to Rodney Gipson and quickly received the ball back. He dribbled to his left across mid court, then made a cut to the right and split a pair of Millers at the top of the key. Blackmon finished the drive by dropping an uncontested layup over the front of the rim just before the final buzzer sounded and the Giants escaped with a 69-68 win.
“I was gonna try to get to the rim because they had eight fouls, so if they put their hands on me I was gonna be at the free throw line,” Blackmon said. “I was gonna try as hard as I can to get to the rim.”
Blackmon scored 25 of his game-high 38 points in the second half, including 16 in the fourth quarter, and he now has 1,999 for his career. He’ll almost certainly become the first player in Marion history to crest the 2,000-point plateau Friday at McCutcheon.
Efficiency was one key to Blackmon’s performance and the Giants’ win.
Blackmon made 12-of-17 field goal attempts, including 7-of-9 from 3-point range, and 7-of-8 free throws. He missed his first shot in the second half then hit his last seven, including all four of his triples.
Collectively, the Giants made 22-of-37 (59 percent) field-goal attempts, a blistering 12-of-15 (80 percent) from long range, and 13-of-16 from the line.
Jermaine Woods connected on 4-of-5 from deep and finished with 14 points for Marion.
“We play behind the line and we shoot a lot of threes in practice,” said Marion coach James Blackmon. “We do a lot of drills where we run and get our legs up under us. Hopefully we continue to shoot that hot, that high percentage.
“Jermaine was locked in and looking for that shot. We want him to continue to stay aggressive,” he added. “He’s a 3-point guy. We’ve been emphasizing to him, you’ve got to look at that shot. You’ve got to be more aggressive with that shot and he’s been doing a good job.”
The Giants held their largest lead at 17-9 late in the first quarter, but Noblesville cut it to three (17-14) by the quarter break.
Over the first five-plus minutes of the second quarter, the Millers outscored the Giants 10-2 and eventually took their largest lead of the night at 28-23 before holding a 30-28 advantage at halftime.
The separation was no more than three points, and there were six ties in the third quarter, but Matthew Goolsby’s bucket at the buzzer sent the Giants into the final eight minutes with a 47-45 advantage.
A 10-3 run gave the Millers a 60-56 lead with 3:40 remaining, but a three and two free throws by Blackmon put the Giants on top by one with 2:10 to play.
Noblesville scored the next four points to grab a 64-61 lead with 1:06 to play, however Blackmon tied the game with another triple ahead of steals by Gipson and Josh Balfour on Noblesville’s next two possessions. Gipson made two free throws and Balfour hit 1-of-2 to put the Giants up 67-64 with 21.3 seconds remaining.
Harris scored for the Millers to cut it to one, and Noblesville immediately called timeout with 13 seconds left.
Blackmon was then called for the illegal screen with no time running off the clock to set up the final game-ending scenario.
Harris led five Millers in double-digit points with 21.
Noblesville made 26-of-44 (59 percent) from the field, but just 4-of-13 from 3-point range. The Millers were also 12-of-14 from the free throw line.
“I’m really proud the way our guys responded,” Coach Blackmon said. “We talked about keys to victory. One of the keys tonight for us was being disciplined, being focused and competing for 32 minutes. You look at a last second shot, that was every bit of 32 minutes.
“You take a very disciplined team like Noblesville, in their half-court offense they’re very patient and move the ball around,” he added. “I thought our guys did a good job communicating to each other, switching out and containment. Down the stretch I thought we got stronger. We made the stops we needed to and towards the end we put ourselves in position (to win).”
Gipson finished with eight points, Goolsby added five and both had five rebounds for the Giants. Taden Metzger connected on his only shot attempt, a 3-pointer, while Balfour ended with one point.
Marion (10-6, 4-3 in North Central Conference) will carry a five-game winning streak into McCutcheon (13-2, 6-0 in NCC) on Friday to begin a stretch of four games in eight days for the Giants.
Class 2A No. 1 Blackhawk Christian comes to Marion on Tuesday with Harrison and Huntington North visiting on Feb. 19 and 20. The Giants final home game is Feb. 24 against Hamilton Southeastern, and they conclude the regular season at Fort Wayne Snider on Feb. 26.