CARBONDALE — Marion held off a late Memphis University High rally on Thursday night to beat the Owls, 55-49, and advance to the "AA" championship of the 54th annual boys basketball Carbondale Holiday Tournament at the Carbondale High School gym.
"Coach Gus Gillespie said this would be the marquee game for us because we faced a worthy opponent — a team with a lot of weapons," said Marion assistant coach Darrell Wimberly. "It is awesome for our program to get to this level. Our game plan was to attack them, but not to send them to the line, but to get them in foul trouble and play on their heels a little bit when they were on defense."
Marion (9-2) takes its four-game winning streak against Memphis Central (10-3), which snapped Carbondale’s seven-game winning streak with a 43-42 win in the previous game.
The Wildcats will play Memphis Central at noon at the SIU Arena, in their first trip to the AA title game since winning the large-school crown in 1987.
The winner of that contest will play the winner of Saxony Lutheran and Cardinal Ritter, who will play for the "A" championship and the right to play for the Championship Plus title at 8 p.m. The losers will play for third place at 6:30 p.m.
Jackson Connor led the Wildcats with 20 points, with Justin Saddoris adding 13 points and Jaden Lacy 11. Terrell Henderson was the leading rebounder for Marion with eight, including seven on the defensive boards.
Marion trailed 12-9 after the first quarter, but took control of the game in the middle two quarters taking a 28-26 lead at the half and extending it to 40-30 heading into the fourth quarter after holding the Owls to just four points in the third quarter.
The Wildcats extended their lead to 12 points on a jumper by Connor to open the final frame, but the Owls rallied back cutting the lead to two points with 2:05 remaining when Jalen Hollimon was fouled after Josh Tanembaum stole the ball, but could only make one of his two free attempts.
After Marion didn’t score, the Owls turned the ball over on a walk and Saddoris made them pay by scoring on a layup with 1:17 remaining. Connor then went to the line and split a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 51-46, but Dekari Scott cut the lead back to two with 36.7 left with his fifth 3-pointer of the game. Scott finished with 19 points.
Saddoris then went to the line and sealed the win by making both his free throws with 23.5 remaining.
Memphis Central came back from an 11-point deficit at the beginning of the third quarter to beat the Terriers, 43-42, on two free throws by John Anderson, Jr. with 11.9 seconds remaining after being fouled on a 3-point attempt. The loss dropped Carbondale into the hunt for fifth place.
Carbondale (10-3) held a six-point lead with 6:41 remaining in the game, but the Warriors pulled within one on a layup by Kalin White followed by a layup and free throw by Anderson, Jr. with 5:33 left.
"The difference in the game was we handled their pressure in the first half, but the second half we didn’t do so well," said Carbondale coach Jim Miller. "Especially in the last two minutes, we’d never been in that position before. We took some poor shots and made some poor decisions and turned the basketball over."
The Terriers extended the lead to three with 2:35 left, but White cut it back to one on a putback of his own missed shot with 1:36 left in the regulation.
After a flurry of turnovers, Memphis Central ran the clock down to 19.3 seconds before taking a timeout. When play resumed, Anderson, Jr. was fouled on a 3-point shot by James Baltz.
Anderson, Jr. missed his first free throw attempt, but made his next two to give the Warriors their first lead since holding an 8-7 lead with 2:09 left in the first quarter.
Carbondale got the ball back, but Kelly stole the ball with two seconds left to seal the victory. The Warriors advanced to the semifinals at noon at the SIU Arena, while the Terriers dropped into the play-in game for fifth place at 10:30 a.m. also at the Arena.
The Terriers will play Memphis University at 10:30 a.m. at the SIU Arena while Murphysboro, who lost to Cardinal Ritter, 58-42, will play Meridian, who lost Saxony Lutheran, 57-54, at 9 a.m. The winners will play for fifth place at 5 p.m.
The consolation games will be played at the Terriers gym with New Madrid playing Collins Academy at 9 a.m. and Union City playing Covington at 10:30 a.m. in the consolation semifinals.
St. Mary’s and Lake County will play at noon followed by McCluer and Logan County at 1:30. The consolation championship game will be played at 3 p.m. at the SIU Arena.