CARTERVILLE -- The Marion Wildcats ended the season-opening Pyramid Plus Tournament with a 2-2 record over the holiday week.
Connor pours in 28 as Wildcats top Herrin in opener
All-stater Jackson Connor poured in a game-high 28 points including all 11 of Marion's points in the first period as the Wildcats opened the boys basketball season with a 53-38 win over the Herrin Tigers in the Pyramid Plus Tournament in Carterville.
After two rounds of the tournament, the Wildcats, who had an opening night bye, find themselves tied for second place with Collinsville at 1-0 in the tournament. Mt. Vernon leads the event with a 2-0 record, while Carterville and Herrin are both 0-2.
After a slow start saw the game go scoreless for the first two minutes, Herrin's Luke LeQuatte and Connor traded points, with Marion taking its first lead at 8-7 on a 3-pointer by Connor. The Wildcats never trailed again.
"We knew Jackson would have a good game if he just let it come to him," said Marion varsity assistant coach Darrell Wimberly.
Marion led 11-7 at the end of the first period, and outscored Herrin 11-7 in the second quarter as well, getting five points from Frankie Horner and two from Rayzhaun Bardo in the frame. And while Connor had 15 of the Wildcats 22 points in the second quarter, the rest of the team was starting to get into the flow.
"At some point, they're going to start guarding [Connor] and other people have to get involved," Wimberly said. "Our offense is set up to get other people involved and we were able to do a good job of that."
That carried over in the second half as six different players scored the first six baskets in the third quarter, with Marion stretching its lead to as many as 14 in the quarter. And while Herrin made several flurries, each one left the Tigers a little farther behind, and the Wildcats led 39-29 at the end of three quarters. The lead ballooned to its final margin in the fourth quarter as Connor netted 11 more points in the frame to keep the Tigers at arm's length.
"When you've got a player like Jackson, he's got to do something with the ball and score and he did" Wimberly said. "But at the end of the day, we need to have a team effort and I thought we did that."
Horner finished the night with nine points while Venson Newsom chipped in with eight, seven coming in the third quarter.
Brandon Anthony led Herrin with 15 points including three 3-point field goals in the third quarter. Jake Baumgarte added three more triples and scored 11 for the Tigers.
Fast start helps Marion improve to 2-0 at Pyramid Plus
The Marion Wildcat boys basketball team used a 14-0 run in the first quarter to take control on the way to a 48-33 win over Carterville in the third round of the Pyramid Plus Tournament Friday night.
The win gave Marion a 2-0 record for the tournament while Carterville fell to 0-3. Marion had the opening night off in the round-robin event.
With the score tied at two, the Wildcats forced a barrage of turnovers, scoring the next 14 points of the game. Jackson Connor and Rayzhaun Bardo each scored seven points in the period.
"Our calling card is our defense," said Marion assistant coach Mike Kraus. "Especially early in the year defense and rebounding will keep you in every ballgame."
The host Lions ended the run when Connor Hawkins hit a 3-pointer late in the first quarter but the damage was already done.
Marion then outscored Carterville 15-5 in the second period to lead 31-10 at halftime. The Lions had 10 first-half turnovers and managed just four field goals in the first 16 minutes.
"We wanted to be physical with them and get after them on the defensive end," Kraus said. "We wanted to trap them a little bit and make them play up-tempo and I thought we did that really well in the first half."
The Wildcat offense struggled some in the second half, as the Wildcats managed just 17 points after the intermission. However, Marion's defense remained solid as Carterville only scored 23 after the break and never got any closer than 14 points.
"Offensively, that's going to come," Kraus said. "We've got more than Jackson, and we're struggling right now with out perimeter shots but our defense and our rebounding is going to be there the entire season."
Connor finished with a game-high 25 points for Marion, moving to within four points of ninth-place on the all-time scoring list at Marion High School with 1,274 points. Bardo finished with the seven he had in the first period while Cavan Cameron netted four.
Carterville didn't have a player in double figures. Jake Hixon came off the bench to score seven points while Nikolas Laird had six.
The win was the 450th career win for Marion head coach Gus Gillespie, who is in his third year at Marion.
Offense sputters as Wildcats drop two on final day of Pyramid
The Marion Wildcat boys basketball team struggled on the offensive end of the floor, managing to score just 72 point in its final two games to finish 2-2 in the Pyramid Plus Tournament.
The Wildcats lost 59-32 to Mt. Vernon Saturday afternoon, and then fell to Collinsville 65-40 in the final game Saturday night. Marion finished third in the tournament.
"You're playing Mt. Vernon, who everyone says is the best team in the South Seven" said Marion head coach Gus Gillespie. "Then you turn around and play Collinsville, arguably the best team in the Southwestern Conference. I said 'guys, we knew these four games were going to be tough. Two and two we'll take.'"
In the early game, the Wildcats never really got in sync, sputtering from the start. Jackson Connor was the only player to score in the first period as Marion fell behind 10-7, and trailed 25-14 at halftime. Mt. Vernon outscored Marion in each of the four periods, stretching the lead to 37-22 at the end of three quarters.
"I thought this afternoon we were really out of character," Gillespie said of the Mt. Vernon game. "We just showed up and we talked about things, and then we came over here and played like we hadn't practiced."
Connor finished with 18 points to lead the Wildcats, but no other player scored more than three points in the game. Quani Rudd scored 19 and Jackson Creel 14 for the Rams.
In the late game, the Wildcats battled Collinsville tough through the first quarter and a half, leading 15-14 early in the second frame before the Kahoks scored 18 of the final 21 points in the half to take a 32-18 lead at intermission.
Marion trimmed the lead to 43-31 at the end of three quarters, but Collinsville pulled away in the fourth period.
"Tonight against Collinsville, we didn't settle for as many threes," Gillespie said. "I felt like we tried to do some better things, but we've got to just have some guys step up."
Connor was again the leading scorer for Marion, pumping in 19 points. Brett Lewis added six and Venson Newsom five for the Wildcats.
All-state guard Ray'Sean Taylor poured in a game-high 29 points to lead the Kahoks, who got eight points each from Cawhan Smith and Lorent Dzeladini.
Connor scored 90 points for the tournament, finishing second behind Taylor for tournament scoring honors.
Those two were on the all-tournament team, along with Smith and Keydrian Jones for Collinsville, Rudd, Creel and Carson Prost for Mt. Vernon, Herrin's Luke LeQuatte and Brandon Anthony and Eli Downen from Carterville.
Marion returns to action Friday night in its South Seven Conference opener at home against Cahokia. The Wildcats play at home Saturday in the final game of the Black Diamond Harley-Davidson Marion Wildcat Shootout against Nashville.
• Tim Petrowich is the Publisher and Editor of Dateline Marion at www.datelinemarion.com.