JASPER, Tenn. - In a game that tested the nerves of players, coaches and fans on both sides Tuesday night, it was ultimately the experience in such times that helped the Marion County boys' basketball team hang on for a wild 74-71 overtime win over Sale Creek.
The Warriors' win locked up the regular-season District 6-A championship and the tournament's top seed and extended their district unbeaten streak to nine games this season.
"We've got a lot of guys back from last year, and I really think the experience from last year, when we came from behind to win a lot of games, helped again tonight," said Warriors coach Chuck Keef, who also claimed the 99th victory in his eight-year career at his alma mater. "The guys just never feel like they're out of any game now. They kind of know what to do in those close situations, and this time of year that's a big deal."
Marion, which won the first meeting by 24 points at Sale Creek, led by eight in the first half and appeared to be in control before the Panthers opened the second half with a 9-0 run and eventually built a five-point advantage themselves.
The fourth quarter had five lead chances and four ties, with Marion senior Preston Pickett evening the score on a driving layup late that eventually forced overtime. After trailing briefly midway through the extra period, the Warriors (14-3, 9-0) took the lead for good on another layup by Hamilton Shoemaker, then extended it on Logan Walters' short jumper.
Pickett pushed the lead to three by making both ends of a one-and-one, and when the Panthers' Hayden Abbott's 3-pointer fell short just before the buzzer, Marion had sealed the first regular-season district title under Keef.
"Playing in games like this will only make us better for the postseason," said Pickett, who scored a game-high 30 points, including 19 in the second half. "This is something to build on, because we had a lot of guys step up in the clutch and show some big-time character.
"Now we just have to keep working and build off this."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.