This is how it must have been in small-town Indiana in the 1950s. A packed crackerbox gym, where fans climbed ladders and peered through the windows when the fire marshal decided enough was enough and locked the doors.
Unfortunately for the 400 or so fans left out in the cold on Monday night, there are no windows at the Marshall High School gym. A standing-room-only crowd of 2,400 watched as Class 4-A No. 2 Tech defeated No. 9 Marion 83-67 in the marquee event of the nine-game IPSAC Midwest Showcase.
The masses flooded East 38th Street and waited in the cold to see a showdown between two top candidates for Indiana Mr. Basketball in Tech senior Trey Lyles, a Kentucky recruit, and Marion senior James Blackmon Jr., an Indiana signee. Another, Park Tudor’s Trevon Bluiett, was among those lucky enough to find his way inside for a courtside seat.
The temperature inside the packed gym felt about 90 degrees.
“I thought for a second we were playing in the City of Palms Tournament in Florida,” Tech coach Jason Delaney said.
While the Mr. Basketball debate will rage into March, Tech was the decisive winner in this head-to-head battle. The 6-foot-10 Lyles was too much for smaller Marion to handle inside as he finished with 29 points and 12 rebounds.
Marion (2-2) trailed just 42-40 early in the third quarter before the Titans (7-1) blew it wide open with an 11-0 run. Lyles had seven of his points during that stretch, including an emphatic dunk, one of his five on the night.
Both Lyles and Blackmon Jr., who scored 12 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, focused on the team matchup and not the individual showdown. But Delaney made the case for his star.
“He took over the game when it was needed,” Delaney said. “We believe he’s not only the best player in the state, but one of the best in the nation. He continues to prove it game in and game out against great competition. That’s the big thing. With our schedule, he may not be scoring 50 points a game but he’s doing great things against great competition.”
While Marion struggled to stop Tech’s transition game, its offense also bogged down in the third quarter. The Giants shot just 4 for 17 from the floor during that eight-minute stretch.
Two more Lyles dunks early in the fourth quarter pushed the lead to 16 and Marion never seriously threatened again.
“Once (Tech) made a shot our guys were sulking like it was over,” said Blackmon Jr., who came in averaging 43.3 points. “We should have just pushed it right back and got back on defense faster.”
Blackmon Jr.’s younger brother, sophomore guard Vijay Blackmon, added 20 points.
“I think (the loss) showed us a lot of positive things actually,” Blackmon Jr. said. “I feel like we could have a better game than we did in the second half, so that’s a positive thing. For only our fourth game into the season, it’s great to see what we can work on and how much better of a team we can be.”
Senior guard Mike Jones added 13 points for Tech, which is ranked No. 17 in the latest USA Today national poll. Sophomore C.J. Walker scored 11 points and Justin Parker had 10.
Lyles and Blackmon are close friends, having played on the same AAU team for several years. Though the shootout didn’t materialize into a down-to-the-wire game, the atmosphere was one that neither is likely to forget.
“It was good to see all these people coming out to show support for both teams,” Lyles said. “High school basketball in Indiana is great, and tonight we came out and did our thing. It’s a small gym, but definitely was a great experience for everybody who was here tonight.”
Great for everybody who could get a ticket.