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Wildcats salvage week with win at Panther Shootout

By Geary Deniston
Contributing Writer
updated: 2/3/2023 8:14 AM

Coming off a terrible performance Friday night before the home crowd against South Seven rival Carbondale, the Marion boys basketball team rebounded with a dominating 21-point win over 15-win Newton at the Pinckneyville Shootout less than 24 hours later.

"It was a short turnaround and I was concerned because Newton had just won their conference tournament on Friday night beating Olney at Olney and Olney could potentially be a top four seed in our sectional complex and we were coming off two losses," said Marion coach Gus Gillespie. "I told our team that their confidence should be growing after showing we can play with the better teams against Herrin and Newton."

The win salvaged the week for the Wildcats (12-12) after a valiant losing effort against powerhouse Herrin (22-2) at home Tuesday night before suffering a disappointing 11-point loss to the Terriers (9-13) that dropped them out of tie for third in the conference with Carbondale with a 3-4 record.

"It was a disappointing Friday night and that's why Saturday became very important," Gillespie said. "It was one of those games late in the year you lose a heartbreaker Tuesday and get blown out Friday night and then you go over there and get beat and with the schedule we have remaining it could have hurt our season and I was concerned about that, but we did what a team that had lost two in a row needed to do."

Marion got out of the gate Saturday afternoon uncharacteristically strong, taking a 16-11 lead after the first quarter. The Wildcats backed that up with an even stronger second quarter, outscoring the Eagles 21-12 to take a 37-23 lead at the half.

"I thought we did a good job of running our offense and taking good shots," Gillespie said. "Defensively we were more tuned in and provided a better effort."

Senior Evan Noelle, who was held to just 10 points against Carbondale, had his best first half of the season, scoring 26 of his game-high 30 points.

"Obviously we were disappointed with our performance Friday, and Evan's first half gave our kids a lot of confidence," Gillespie said. "Our guys did a good job of getting him the ball in places he could score. Then Evan was just more aggressive in looking for his shots -- maybe not dribbling as much and driving as much -- just one dribble pull-up shooting it off the pass. He found his rhythm."

For the game Noelle shot 55% from the field making 12-of-22 shots, including 8-of-11 from inside the arc, and 2-for-2 from the free throw line. His 30 points just missed his season best of 31 scored at Massac County Dec. 10.

Sophomore Kaden Rogowski also had an efficient night, making 4-of-4 from the inside and 2-for-2 from the line to finish with 10 points. His only misses were two attempts from beyond the arc.

Senior center Talon Hance was also strong down below with eight points on 4-of-7 shooting. Fellow senior forward Nehemiah Goodman also scored eight points making 2-of-3 from the field and 4-of-4 from the line.

"With Newton keying on Evan we had some of our other guys get scoring opportunities and that is what we need to take advantage of more often," Gillespie said.

Sophomore guard Reece Anthony had a key moment with his first 3-pointer of the season after missing his first six tries from the perimeter over the first 22 games.

"I thought Reese did a good job after playing awfully well against Herrin," Gillespie said. "I thought our other two seniors Goodman and Hance did a good job around the basket."

Newton made a run in the third quarter cutting the lead to 48-39, but the Wildcats finished strong out-scoring the Eagles 20 to eight.

The Wildcats as a team shot 54% from the field (26-of-48), including 33% from beyond the arc (7-of-21) and 90% from the line (9-of-10) while holding the Eagles to just 29% from the field (14-of-48) including just 1-of-15 from the perimeter.

Marion gave Herrin all it wanted and more, trailing by six after the first quarter and cutting the lead to three at the half. The second half was pretty much a wash with the Tigers extending their lead to five after three quarters and the Wildcats cutting the lead to two in the fourth before falling short, 43-39.

"Herrin is a very talented team and we put ourselves in a position in the last four minutes to take care of the game and that's all you can ask of your kids," Gillespie said. "We had a corner three rim in and out and a lay-up rim in and out. We had a block charge go against us. Sometimes the ball doesn't bounce your way or maybe a call goes one way or the other and all those kind of things have to go in your favor if you want to beat a team that has won 20 games."

Noelle was on his game, scoring 20 points on 8-of-15 from the field, including 7-of-9 from the inside, and 3-for-3 from the line.

"We had to sit Noelle three and a half to four minutes in the second quarter because of foul trouble and that was the first time all year we had to do that," Gillespie said. "With him out it would have been a good time for Herrin to take it to us, but were able to cut into their lead and hold them to just four points. We also had a starter out with Phoenix Hatchett being sick and we lost some offensive without him and we still did OK."

Rogowski finished with 13 points, which was his fourth best performance of the season following 19 four games before against Althoff, 17 against Paducah Tilghman and 14 against Overton during the Route 13 Classic at Christmas.

On Friday night the Wildcats were hosting the Terriers before a big crowd and got off to a decent start, holding a 12-11 lead after the first quarter and extending their lead to three points 1:06 into the second.

But the Terriers took control with a 13-4 run to close out the first half to take a 26-20 lead at the half. The Wildcats cut the lead back to three to open the third quarter, but that was as close as Marion would get the rest of the way as the Terriers took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter en route to a 58-47 win.

"After playing well against Herrin and the way we played at the Nashville Tournament and the practices we've been having I felt we were ready to play against Carbondale and we came out flat and stayed flat," Gillespie said. "It was 32 minutes of struggling and that surprised me. We hadn't hosted a Friday night conference game since Dec. 2, and we just totally did not respond at all. It was a big crowd and a good atmosphere and we never got out of the gate. Carbondale came out hungry and the hungrier team won."

Hatchett led Marion with 11 points followed by 10 from Noelle and nine from Rogowski. The Wildcats shot just 43% from field (16-of-37), including 4-of-12 from the outside, and 69% from the line on 11-of-16.

This week it's out of the frying pan and into the fire with 17-2 McCracken County from Kentucky coming to Virgil "Cuss" Wilson Gymnasium Tuesday and 18-4 Centralia (4-2 in the South Seven) coming to town for another big South Seven Friday night showdown.

"I think McCracken is top 10 in the state Kentucky and Centralia is one of the better 3A teams in Southern Illinois," Gillespie said. "We are down to five games left in the conference with only two left at home and we just have play better in the conference to gain some ground."

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