Three games, three wins, two by double digits, and the Marion Warriors convincingly laid claim Saturday to the championship of the Cougar Classic tournament at Centre.
The Warriors faced off in the tournament final against Hope, which entered the game as the state’s top-ranked team in Class 1A-Division 2.
The pace was torrid in the opening minutes, contributing to cold shooting by both teams. Hope took the early advantage, 4-0.
“I think them playing good defense is what had us slow coming out,” Marion head coach Jeff McMillin said.
Jacob Harper scored Marion’s first basket, a 3-pointer, with 5 minutes, 23 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Scott Jones followed with a basket to put Marion ahead, 5-4. The Warriors maintained a 1-point edge, 9-8, going into the second quarter.
Hope briefly reclaimed the lead before Warrior Mikael Antosyck dropped a long 3-point shot and Jones scored on a put-back to take back the lead for Marion, 14-10.
A drive and score by Jordan Hett at 2:59 sparked a 9-0 run to close the half. Zach Robson hit a 3-point shot and Harper and Hett scored during the run to give Marion a 23-14 halftime lead.
Hope edged closer as Marion experienced a repeat of their chilly start to the game. Following a time-out at 4:52, Jones drove for the Warriors’ first basket of the quarter and a 25-19 lead. Marion extended the lead to 32-25, but the Lions closed the quarter with a 5-0 run, and entered the fourth quarter trailing Marion by 2, 32-30.
“They were more aggressive than us coming out of the locker room, and size became a factor in the third quarter,” McMillin said.
After failing to score in the third quarter, Harper took over the offensive end of the floor for Marion.
He started with baskets on the baseline and a pull-up jumper in the lane. At 4:28 Harper hit the first of three consecutive 3-point shots, the last two from the same spot deep in the corner. Harper outscored Hope 9-1 in that run, stretching the lead to 51-39. Harper nailed 4 free throws in the final minute to account for 17 of Marion’s 24 fourth-quarter points, and seal the 56-44 championship victory.
While Marion fans reacted to Harper’s scoring, McMillin was more pleased with Harper’s rebounding effort.
“He got big rebounds by going up aggressively,” McMillin said. “When you’re trying to hold a lead, not giving them second looks is critical.”
Harper led Marion with 24 points, followed by Hett with 12, and Jones with 8.
Fresh off an opening-round win against Solomon, Marion faced off Friday against White City, ranked 10th in Class 1A-Division 1.
Marion broke open the game in the second quarter, outscoring White City 20-6. Taylor Heidebrecht was a key catalyst for the Warriors, dropping a 3-pointer and scoring two fast-break baskets.
“He had a great game,” McMillin said. “Defensively, he was all over the floor. It was good to see the offensive light come on for him.”
Hett, Harper, Antosyck, and Robson also scored to give Marion an insurmountable 32-13 halftime lead. Marion coasted from there to a 61-40 win.
Hett scored 24 points to lead Marion, Harper added 15, and Heidebrecht finished with 10.
McMillin used 3-point shooting against White City as an example of how the Warriors got contributions across the board during the tournament.
“We had great contributions from everyone. We hit eight threes, and five different guys hit them,” McMillin said.
Winning the tournament championship was a good milestone at this point in the season, but from a coaching perspective, McMillin looked at it as a series of three games on the way to future goals.
“The kids were excited about it. I’m glad, and it’s a fun thing to win,” McMillin said. “I’m more concerned with each individual game, and had more focus on our constant improvement.”
Hett and Harper were named to the all-tournament team.
The Warriors return to action Thursday when they host Council Grove at USD 408 Sports and Aquatics Center.