With just over three minutes to go in Bill Green Arena Friday night, it looked like the Marion Giants’ modest three-game winning streak was in some serious jeopardy.
The Giants and McCutcheon exchanged runs and played a tightly contested game through the first three-plus quarters, but the Mavericks scored 13-straight points in a three-minute, 20 second span starting early in the fourth quarter and led 70-58 with just 3:24 to play.
During a timeout, Giants’ coach James Blackmon had a simple message for his team.
“I told them there was plenty of time left in the ball game. We score in bundles,” Blackmon shared. “The thing about it is, we’ve got to execute on the defensive end. Three minutes, that’s a lot of time if you’re scoring the ball and getting stops.”
And the Giants did both to finish the game.
A full-court trapping defense forced five turnovers that aided a 20-7 flurry, and the Giants hit six of their final seven field goal attempts and five-straight free throws to pull off a dramatic, 78-77 come-from-behind win.
The Giants got off to a 13-6 lead in the first five minutes, but the Mavericks closed the first quarter with a 13-2 run and 19-14 advantage.
A basket by JK Thomas and 3-pointer from RaSheed Jones quickly tied the game just over a minute into the second quarter, but Giants wouldn’t wrestle the lead away until a Thomas trey put them up 29-26. Thomas swished home another shot from long range with 42 seconds to play in the half for a 32-29 advantage, but freshman Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn scored the final four points of the half to send the Mavericks to intermission with a one-point lead.
The lead changed hands five times in the third quarter, Jones 3-pointer with 1:32 left put Marion on top 51-50, but again Gibbs-Lawhorn scored the last four sending McCutcheon to the fourth quarter three-point lead.
The Giants used a 7-2 spurt to grab their 58-57 lead, but Gibbs-Lawhorn drained a 3-pointer on both ends of the Mavericks’ 13-0 run that seemingly had them in control with a 12-point advantage.
“I thought we did a great job of keeping our composure. Being down 10 with that much time left, we definitely showed that tonight,” Blackmon said. “We talked bout mental toughness and once again I thought we showed that. We needed a stop, we needed a rebound and we got it.”
Matthew Goolsby started the Giants’ comeback with a 2-point basket and Jones came up with a steal and hit a 3-pointer in transition just a few seconds later to pull Marion within seven.
Gibbs-Lawhorn scored a two ahead of a Thomas’ triple that pulled Marion to within, 72-66 with 2:30 to play.
A Giant turnover led to a basket for James Mallett and extended the Mavericks’ advantage back to eight, but it was their last field goal.
Francesco Boniciolli knocked down a 17-foot jump shot then came up with a steal and made two free throws to pull Marion with 74-70 with 1:19 to play.
Gibbs-Lawhorn capped a sensational 33-point effort with a pair of free throws at the 1:02 mark for six-point McCutcheon lead.
Jones’ fifth 3-pointer of the game halved the Mavericks lead, then after Rowen Farrell made 1-of-2 from the line, Thomas was fouled on a 3-point attempt and connected on all three free throws to trim the Giants deficit to 77-76 with 39.6 seconds to play.
The Giants’ defense forced a travelling call just a few seconds later, and Thomas calmly sank a 12-foot jump shot with 24 seconds remaining for the final lead change of the night.
But the drama certainly wasn’t finished.
McCutcheon’s Joe Phinisee was fouled with 14 seconds to play his team in the double bonus. Phinisee missed both, but the Mavericks’ Alan Bernardez grabbed a rebound and missed a short bank shot. Mason Douglas got another offensive board but his shot attempt was swatted away by Jones and Josh Balfour pulled down the rebound for the Giants.
Balfour miss the front end of a one-and-one with seven seconds left, but the Giants pressured Gibbs-Lawhorn enough in the backcourt that he was only able to launch a shot from mid-court that slammed off the backboard as time expired.
Thomas led the Giants with 31 points, 11 in the fourth quarter while Jones hit four threes and scored 14 of his 21 points in the second half. Goolsby finished with 18 points and scored 12 in the second half.
“We know what those guys are going to bring to the table and the thing about it is we’re starting to play within each other’s strengths,” Blackmon said, of his trio of leading scorers. “Tonight one of our keys to victory was playing with a purpose. When we got ourselves down, when we needed to execute certain things, we attacked the defense and we got what we wanted.”
After making just 5-of-12 field goal attempts and missing all four of their 3-pointers in the first quarter, the Giants made 22-of-38 field goals over the final three, including 10-of-20 from long distance. Marion also hit 14-of-17 free throw attempts in the game.
McCutcheon (9-10, 2-6 in NCC) made 27-of-49 from the field, 8-of-19 from beyond the arc and 15-of-24 from the foul line. Farrell finished with 14 points for the Mavericks and Phinisee added 12.
Marion (10-8, 6-2 in NCC) faces a pair of tough road contests in the next six days. The Giants travel to Class 2A No. 3 Fort Wayne Blackhawk (17-3) on Tuesday then trek to West Lafayette Friday to face Harrison (15-5, 6-2) in the final conference game of the season.
The Giants finish the regular season with home games against Indianapolis Manual (Feb. 22) and Fort Wayne Snider (Feb. 28).