Photo by Caleb Motsinger
Marquette guard Deion Lavender averaged more than 25 points all season long but was held to just 18 points Wednesday at the Class 3A Highland sectional.
Deion Lavender has had a bull’s-eye on his back all season long.
Opposing teams know if they want to stop the Explorers (20-7), they need to limit Lavender’s shots and keep his teammates from getting him the ball.
Marion coach Shane Hawkins knew that before making the long trek to Highland Wednesday.
And his team executed that game plan perfectly in all four quarters, soundly defeating Marquette 58-39.
“Marquette is a good basketball team, but everything runs through Lavender,” Hawkins said. “Our guys understood what they were going to do with every possession and they made it difficult for him to get any good looks.”
The Wildcats (16-14) shot 63 percent on two-pointers and 75 percent on three-pointers.
They got hot early on with two first-quarter threes from 5-foot-7 junior Moe Jackson. He led his team to 14 first-quarter points. And with the Explorers down by four going into the second, Marion hit the gas and accelerated toward halftime.
“(Brant) Hill was amazing tonight guarding Lavender,” Hawkins said. “He (Hill) is a rare breed; he’s 6-foot-3, really long and super-athletic; he has a stopper mentality and has been tremendous for us the last four or five weeks.”
Lavender had five points in the first quarter, but he didn’t score again until after halftime.
“They had four guys in the lane and one guy on him (Lavender) at all times,” Marquette coach Steve Medford said. “We needed a couple of guys to step up and make some shots.”
And no one came to the Explorers’ rescue in Lavender’s absence.
Marion outscored the Explorers 33-11 in the second half; with senior Colten Carter scoring three 3-pointers to lead the Wildcats’ 34-18 charge into the second half.
“They were shaking a little bit at halftime and their heads were down,” Medford said. “We didn’t play our best game; we didn’t coach our best game, and that’s unfortunate, but I’m so proud of those seniors and what they’ve done this year; a lot of people didn’t expect us to get this far.”
Lavender came back to score nine points in the third quarter, but with only two points from Jordan Harris to match his efforts, the Wildcats clamped down and held on.
Jackson led the Wildcats with 19 points, junior Robby Dosier had 12, seniors Colten Carter and Brant Hill each had nine.
Lavender led the Explorers with 18 points, followed by senior Max Goepel’s seven points and sophomore Trey Aguirre’s five.
The Wildcats move on to play Cahokia Friday at Highland High School at 7 p.m. for the sectional championship.
This is Hawkins’ first sectional appearance in the two years he has been head coach at Marion High School. The Wildcats knocked off Carbondale last week to win the school’s first regional in 24 years.
Marion, Carbondale and Cahokia are all in the South Seven Conference. It’s a tough conference full of 3A teams with deep benches and tough schedules. Carbondale was the South Seven champion, ranked fourth in the state before falling to the Wildcats. Marion went 3-7 in their conference, tying for fourth place with Cahokia.
The Explorers beat Jersey to get to the Highland sectional. They shared a pair of games with the Panthers before ending their season at Triad.
Lavender, who recently made a verbal commitment to play next year at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, has led his team with a near 30-point scoring average all season long. With his high school career now behind him, he can look back on a stellar four-year career with the Explorers.
“I don’t think I could have asked for a better high school career than what I had,” Lavender said. “I have to play college ball now and I can’t hang my head on this one.”