Mr. Basketball candidate James Blackmon Jr. and the Marion Giants put an emphatic end to the Kokomo Wildkats’ 28-game home winning streak Friday night.
The IU recruit scored 37 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Giants past the Kats 75-51 in a North Central Conference game that brought an estimated crowd of 4,000 to Memorial Gym.
The Giants improved to 2-1 overall and 1-0 in the NCC. The Kats dropped to 1-3 and 0-2.
“I was proud of our guys’ effort. Kokomo is a tough team and this is a tough place to play,” Marion coach James Blackmon Sr. said. “This is the first conference win for us. We definitely wanted to establish ourselves. We talk about how, if we’re going to be respectable in the conference and if we’re going to win the conference, we definitely have to win on the road and I thought our guys came out and matched their intensity early in the ballgame.”
The Blackmons are in their first seasons with the Giants. James Sr. was one of Marion’s all-time best players and a 1983 Indiana All-Star. Now, he is happy his sons, James Jr. and Vijay, are walking in his footsteps. They previously played for their dad at Fort Wayne Bishop Luers.
“I played here, been in this environment,” he said. “I always was excited about the North Central Conference. They didn’t realize the type of enthusiasm you have and the support each team has in this conference, and the gyms are awesome. This matched [expectations] when you saw the big crowd.”
Marion quickly removed any suspense from the game. The Giants bolted to a 21-13 lead by the close of the opening quarter and went on for a 43-26 halftime lead. Blackmon Jr. had 21 points in the half and Alec Turner added 12 points. They combined to drill 7 of 12 attempts from 3-land. The Kats, on the other hand, endured a frigid shooting half, making just 5 of 22 attempts from the field overall.
The Giants also feasted on 17 Kat turnovers in the opening half. The Giants had a 17-1 advantage in points off turnovers — 11-1 in the second quarter alone.
“Give Marion a lot of credit. I thought the story of the game was they controlled the tempo with their pressure,” Kokomo coach Brian McCauley said. “They had 17 points off of our turnovers at halftime and we were down 17. And then in the second half, they ended up scoring 12 more points off of our turnovers. They outscored us by 22 on points off of turnovers [29-7].
“As a coach, I have to coach them to understand what they need to do when they catch it in certain position. As players, we have to get better at pivoting, getting our head up and facing the defense and making the correct pass. We just have to get better.”
Marion led 67-39 at the end of the third quarter, then coasted to the 75-51 final.
Blackmon Jr. had an efficient night. He made 12 of 17 shots from the field overall — 9 of 9 from 2-point range highlighted by some dunks, and 3 of 8 from 3-land. He drew 12 fouls and knocked down all 10 of his free throw attempts.
Also for the Giants, Turner and former Richmond player Reggie Jones complemented Blackmon Jr. well with 12 points apiece. They combined to make 6 of 11 3-point attempts.
Erik Bowen led the Kats with 15 points and nine rebounds. Mykal Cox added 11 points and five boards.
Kokomo made just 9 of 32 shots from the field. The Kats’ best offense came at the free throw line when they made 20 of 28 attempts.
Kokomo must quickly shake off the loss, with a trip to Lafayette Jeff on tap tonight.
“It’s an extremely tough weekend, against one of the best teams in the state vs. Marion and then going on the road against a good Lafayette Jeff team,” McCauley said. “It takes a lot of mental and physical toughness and this team has it and we’ll come back [tonight] and battle hard. We have to find a way to get it done.”
Marion, which has a big game against Class 4A No. 3 Indianapolis Tech on Monday, will return to Memorial Gym in the postseason for sectional play. Kokomo is the three-time defending sectional champ.
“Definitely Kokomo is a tough team at home. They’re missing one of their star players [Tayler Persons] and he’s a good friend of James’ and I know his dad really well. If he comes back [from his knee injury], that’s going to be a whole new ballclub,” Blackmon Sr. said. “But we’re not going to look that far down the line. We’re just going to keep trying to get better as a team and I thought we did that [Friday].”
Kokomo and Marion have played 186 times. Kokomo owns a 106-80 lead. The Giants’ win snapped a five-game Kat win streak in the series.