MARION — A hot start and clutch shooting late lifted the Carbondale Terriers to a 57-51 win over the Marion Wildcats in a key South Seven Conference boys basketball game Friday night at Cuss Wilson Gymnasium.
Carbondale improved to 19-6 overall and 6-2 in the South Seven, remaining in a first-place tie with Mount Vernon atop the standings, while Marion dropped to 18-9 and 5-3 with the loss.
Marion scored the game's first point on a free throw by Jackson Connor, the first of his game-high 28 points, but then the Terriers got two buckets from James Baltz and a 3-pointer by Tavaris Macklin.
Moments later, Carbondale had a 13-3 lead on a layup by Fairleigh Ward and the margin was 20-5 at the end of the first quarter after a steal and layup by Davaris Macklin.
"Our success lies with our defense, our rebounding and our transition game," said Carbondale coach Jim Miller. "Once we get some stops if we're rebounding effectively, our transition game can be pretty solid."
Marion used a 10-0 run in the second quarter to get back in the game. That flurry included baskets from Connor, Frankie Horner, Rayzhaun Bardo and a trey by Jordan Cook, but the Wildcats never led again in the contest.
"This is the third time where a slow start has really cost us a ballgame, where we simply don't play the first six minutes and the game is over," said Marion coach Gus Gillespie. "We fight back and we play hard, but we allowed six points in the last 50 seconds of the third quarter. Those were two big shots."
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Marion trailed 27-19 at halftime but had pulled within 33-31 on a layup by Connor, only to see Tavaris Macklin hit a free throw and Davaris Macklin drill two 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds to give the Terriers a 40-31 lead going into the fourth.
"That was huge," Miller said. "It's a game of runs and our kids have shown some poise and maturity."
Carbondale led 47-38 on two free throws by Davaris Macklin with 4:33 left. Marion got as close as 49-48 on a 3-pointer by Bardo with 1:34 remaining, but then Clayton Greer answered with a huge triple for the Terriers.
Greer, a senior, also hit two free throws and Ward, another senior, nailed two as well in the final 23 seconds to seal the win.
Davaris Macklin led the Terriers with 18 points and Tavaris Macklin finished with 14. Ward also hit double figures with 11 and Greer had all seven of his points in the final period.
"They made some runs but we countered with a couple runs of our own," Miller said. "It's just about confidence and playing through adversity and showing you know how to play this game the right way."
Connor scored his 28 points and Bardo added 11, but the Wildcats didn't get much else offensively — much to the chagrin of Gillespie.
"If you come to our practices, we make shots every day," Gillespie said. "We hit shots when we don't play. You've got to get over that hurdle as a basketball player that you can do it in a game. And when we do that, we'll become a little better. But time is running out."
Both teams controlled their own destiny in the South Seven before the contest. Now the Terriers have the upper hand going down the final stretch after splitting with the Wildcats.
"They're a very talented team," Miller said. "We ran up against one of the best players in Illinois, especially in Southern Illinois, in Jackson Connor. But our kids did a fantastic job of playing together and they were engaged throughout the game."