Jacob Harper gave his all Friday to his charity of choice, the Marion High School boys’ basketball team, which rode Harper’s nine fourth-quarter free throws to a 41-36 win over Bennington at USD 408 Sports and Aquatics Center.
It was another hotly contested battle between the teams, one week after Marion’s 62-59 come-from-behind win at Bennington.
Marion had to overcome two long stretches where field goals were elusive. In the opening 7 minutes, 30 seconds of the contest, a lone Mikael Antozyck 3-pointer was all the Warriors could muster. Marion notched just one field goal by Scott Jones in final 6:30 of the fourth quarter.
Bennington suffered their own offensive woes in the opening period, scoring only 6 points in the face of stingy Warrior defensive play and poor shooting. A basket by Jones at the :30 mark closed out the first quarter with Marion trailing, 5-6.
The Warriors opened the second quarter with a free throw from Jordan Hett and a Harper 3-pointer to take a 9-7 lead. Derek Stanley answered with two baskets for Bennington, but consecutive 3-point shots from Harper and Hett, both from deep in the left corner, put Marion back in front, 15-11. Free throws by Antozyck and Zach Robson gave the Warriors a 17-13 advantage at the half.
Hett hit a jumper from the left side and followed with a slashing drive to the bucket for another score at 6:02 in the third for Marion’s largest lead of the game at 23-15. The Bulldogs narrowed the Warriors’ advantage to 28-24 heading into the fourth quarter.
Harper carried the bulk of the scoring load for the Warriors in the final period, ducking into the lane for one score and hitting two free throws at 4:33 to hold the Bulldogs at bay, 32-28. Lane Thornhill found the basket on consecutive trips down the floor to pull Bennington into a tie at 32 with 3:30 remaining.
Marion regained the lead 34-32 when Jones crossed into the lane for an 8-foot jumper, the final Warriors’ field goal of the contest at 3:08.
Following a Marion timeout with the score tied at 34, Harper took over from the charity stripe. He put Marion back into the lead with one at 2:10. The Warriors worked the clock on their next possession until Harper was fouled while shooting at 1:11, and he hit both foul shots for a 37-34 lead.
Jones ripped down two critical defensive rebounds after Bennington misses, and Stanley was forced to foul Harper again with :20 remaining. Harper calmly dropped both charities through the hoop.
Bennington missed on two 3-point attempts, but Jacob Arnold hauled down a rebound and banked home a bucket to pull the Bulldogs within 3, 39-36.
Following a timeout, Harper took the inbounds pass and was fouled with :01 remaining. His sixth and seventh consecutive free throws nailed down the 41-36 Warrior victory.
“We didn’t burn out any lights on the scoreboard, that’s for sure,” Marion head coach Jeff McMillin said. “I think both teams might have been playing fairly good defense, both teams were kind of cold and doing things to each other that were making the game sloppy.”
Playing the rematch one week after the first contest contributed to the success both teams had defensively, McMillin said.
“Both teams were prepared last week, so basically this last week has been a long halftime for us to make adjustments, and it showed,” McMillin said. “They were on top of everything we tried to do, and we were on top of everything they tried to do.”
Harper led the Warriors in scoring with 19 points, 11 coming at the charity stripe. Hett scored 10, and Antosyck added 7.
Marion picked up a 54-50 road victory Feb. 14 against Inman. Antosyck was the leading scorer with 15, and Harper was close behind with 13.
The Warriors traveled Tuesday to Sedgwick for their final regular season game before the start of sub-state tournament action Feb. 27.