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MARION – Chris Roberts’ new team won Monday night.

So did his old team.

After Roberts guided Herrin to a 54-40 victory over Vienna in the opening game of the Lady Cat Tip-Off Classic at Cuss Wilson Gym, Marion nearly frittered away an 11-point fourth quarter lead before holding on for a 51-49 decision over Massac County.

Roberts ran the Wildcats’ program the last five seasons before making the move across Williamson County to replace the retired Bill Green.

A man-to-man man at Marion, Roberts has adopted the traditional zone defense at Herrin, although he’s swapped Green’s preferred 1-3-1 for a 2-3. It was that defense that overcame 13-2 and 18-7 deficits, forcing a spate of turnovers and then generating offense in transition.

“I have to change my ways too, just like everybody else,” Roberts said. “I have to learn what they can do.”

Senior guard Madison Russell scored 16 of her team-high 21 points after halftime, canning a pair of 3s in the third quarter when the Tigers used a 13-6 spurt to take control. Twin sister Marissa Russell and forward Grace Lehnhoff each added 10.

Lehnhoff was even more important when it came to defense and rebounding. She helped slow down Vienna standout Lindsey Holhubner for stretches in the second half and finished with 13 rebounds.

Holhubner collected 22 points, 17 rebounds, four blocked shots and four steals in a splendid all-around effort. But she will need more help and more touches than she had for long spells in the second half.

“The turnovers killed us,” Eagles coach Jamie Kerley said after his team committed 22, 11 in each half. “To go from being 11 up to 14 down is a pretty drastic swing in a game.”

In the nightcap, Marion used the foul line to build a 42-31 lead, then nearly lost because of free throws. It missed six foul shots in the final minute, when Massac County had two opportunities to win or tie in the final 11.6 seconds.

However, the Patriots walked with 8.3 seconds on the clock to end their first possession. After getting the ball back with 6.7 ticks on the clock following an air-balled foul shot, Massac County rushed the ball down the floor, but a runner under duress in the lane came up begging as time expired.

“I’m proud that the kids showed some character and gave us a chance to tie or win at the end,” said Patriots coach Jim Prevallet.

Abby Bayer tallied 18 points for the Wildcats and Lauryn Kadela hit for 12. The duo combined to sink 18 free throws without missing. As a team, Marion went 23 for 38 and Massac County was just 3 for 12.

Lauren Coakley scored 11 points to pace the balanced Patriots.

The tournament continues through Friday night with two games every evening. Tomorrow night’s schedule pits Massac County against Vienna at 5:30, followed by Herrin and Gallatin County at 7.

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