A pair of state-ranked basketball teams — the No. 5 Cole Cougars and the No. 8 Marion Bulldogs — battled in a district game on Tuesday — and Marion came out on top.
The Bulldogs defeated the Cougars 52-42 in San Antonio, avenging an earlier loss. Marion fell to Cole 57-54 in an overtime thriller on Jan. 18 at home during their first district match-up.
The victory leaves Cole (27-5) and Marion (21-7) now tied in second place in the District 26-3A standings with a record of 6-2, just one game behind district leader the No. 4 Randolph Ro-Hawks (28-1, 7-1) — who also handed the Bulldogs their second district loss (55-53) on Jan. 22.
Marion will face Randolph again and fight for that top seed as they will host the Ro-Hawks at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
“This was game one, and we took care of that,” Marion head coach Jon Allen said. “We didn’t celebrate much, we said ‘Yay’ and we said ‘Let’s get ready for Randolph’ and they know that. We got a senior bunch, a veteran bunch and they know what’s in front of them, so they want to make it happen.”
Against Cole, the Bulldogs built a 9-2 lead over the Cougars in the first four minutes of the game.
Cole netted in a few buckets before the first quarter ended, but finished the period trailing Marion by five (13-8).
The Cougars scored four straight points at the start of the next quarter, making it a one-point game. However, Marion crushed Cole’s hopes for a rally by draining in a trio of 3-pointers and two layups. The 14-2 run gave the Bulldogs a 27-14 advantage at the half.
The second half was a close fight as the Cougars rallied back from a 17-point deficit, using a 12-4 run to only trail by six (45-39) with 3:12 left in the final quarter.
Marion drained in several much-needed free-throws to cushion their lead, which ultimately led to the 52-42 victory over Cole.
“We needed that,” Allen said. “We needed to know that we can make some free-throws down the stretch to finish the game, and I thought we did that there at the end, so hats off to them. I’ll take a win any way we can get it, but I thought we controlled the game for sure.”
Senior Jacob Wallace scored a game-high of 21 points and went 7-of-8 at the free-throw line in the second half of the game. He also recorded 11 rebounds, six assists and two blocks.
“He is definitely our X-factor,” Allen said. “When he scores, we are tough to beat. We’ve got enough scorers other places, and when people really start worrying about him, I think it opens up everything for other guys.”
This season, the forward-turned-point-guard took on a new position on the court and has found his rhythm as he has scored at least 21 points in the past four games.
“It was kind of difficult at first because I was passing a lot and I was playing like a true point guard position,” Wallace said. “But throughout the middle of the year, he’s (Coach Allen) like you can go and score, and that’s what I’ve been doing lately and it’s been working out for us.”
Senior Jackson Allen also finished with a double-double as he recorded 13 points and 12 rebounds. Senior Tyler Bridges chipped in 10 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out two assists. Junior Zach Goodwin contributed five points and freshman Ryken Autry chimed in three.
The race for the first place seed in the 26-3A standings is still up for grabs — and Marion plans to take a bite of it.
“This a good win because we are still battling for that first place in district,” Wallace said. “We have to have the same mentality for the Randolph game, because they are a good team too. They beat Cole and they also lost to Cole, and we just have to be aggressive and play good defense like we did this game and we will win.”