Pilots edge Marion
Cairo wins mistake filled game, 58-55; Taylor nets 29-points

WEST FRANKFORT – Cairo senior guard Damarius Taylor has been his club's top scorer and team leader this season and he stepped forward to lead his Pilots to an important, yet somewhat ugly to watch, win on Saturday night.

Taylor, a 6-foot-2 three-year starter, scored 29-points, 25 in the second half, as the second ranked 1A ABV team edged 3A Marion, 58-55, in the opening game of the West Frankfort “Mid-Winter Classic.”

Taylor finished with three important made 3-pointers and he hit 10-of-13 free throws, including five consecutive in the final 2:06, to help seal the victory for Coach Larry Wood and his 13-3 squad.

The Pilots are 1-0 in Pool B in the 32nd annual event.

In a contest filled with mistakes (47 combined turnovers) the Pilots took advantage of their quickness in forcing mistakes on the Wildcats while also pounding the boards.

Cairo out-rebounded the taller Marion team, 29-23, a number that included 17-offensive rebounds.

Sophomore guard Fairleigh Ward added 13-points for the Pilots while sophomore Terrell Jones scored six-points.

Jones' points came on back-to-back 3-pointers to open the fourth quarter and give the Pilots their biggest lead of the night at 44-39.

Coach Gus Gillespie's Wildcats got 14-points on the inside from 6-foot-5 forward Terrell Henderson and 12-points each from 6-foot-5 sophomore Jackson Conner and 6-foot guard Korey Houston.

When Marion got the ball inside things went very well, but playing without two starting guards; Jaden Lacy and Justin Saddoris, the Wildcats committed 24-turnovers.

Saddoris is nursing an injury while Lacy was not with the team due to a family issue, according to Coach Gillespie.

“It (the game) was awful and that is how we have been playing,” said Coach Gillespie. “We are out two starters (Lacey, Saddoris) but we still had a situation where we could win the game. Having 24 or 25 turnovers against Cairo is inexcusable.”

Cairo prides itself on its pressure defense and it showed on this night as they forced the Wildcats into most of their mistakes.

As it turned out, the only real offensive star of the night for either team was Taylor.

He got his game going in the third quarter.

Trailing at halftime 24-17, Taylor scored just seconds into the second half and later added a pair of 3-pointers.

Ward also added a trey from the left wing in between the Taylor-made three's.

When Taylor nailed his second 20-footer in the run, Cairo led 32-29.

“He (Taylor) is able to create his own shots, he's not selfish and he is averaging 26/27 points a game for us,” said Coach Wood. “Most teams (we face) are bigger than he is and everybody is keying on him now.”

Taylor was also fouled two different times in the quarter and sent to the line.

He made 4-of-5 free throws, 2-of-3 when being fouled on a 3-point attempt.

But because of all of the miscues by both teams, neither could put away the other.

Marion stayed close in the second half with Conner, Henderson and guard Boston Ziegler all scoring points.

Ziegler made his only shot, a 3-pointer, and Houston hit two free throws to send the game to the fourth quarter tied at 38-all.

“The guys responded well tonight. We started out kind of sluggish. We had a few days off but they found a way (to win) and that is what they have been doing lately,” said Coach Wood. “They (Marion) are bigger than us so we had to work harder in the post.”

Marion got its final lead at 53-52 when forward Cole Schafer scored in the paint on a pass from Conner with 2:17 left.

Taylor got back the lead for his club as he was fouled shooting a 3-pointer for the second time in the game.

Taylor calmly sank all three free throws to give back the advantage to the Pilots.

Conner hit a shot in the lane on an inbounds play, which tied the game one final time at 55.

Cairo's James Vaughn, a junior guard, made the first of two free throws for a one-point lead.

The next two Wildcats' possessions epitomized their overall performance.

Getting the ball to Henderson on the right blocks, the forward spun to the basket and committed a charging foul which gave the ball back to the Pilots with :45.5 remaining.

Cairo worked the ball into the frontcourt and Ward was sent to the foul line with :22.3 left.

Ward missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Henderson grabbed the rebound with Marion now having another chance to take the lead.

But, like so many times throughout the game, the Wildcats mishandled the ball.

Houston tried to make a pass from the right side of the floor to the other side, but it went out-of-bounds back to Cairo with just :06.9.

The Pilots knew who to get the ball to.

Taylor took an inbounds pass and was sent to the foul line with :03.7.

The 6-foot-2 senior made his two free throws to put the Pilots up by three.

Needing a 3-pointer, Marion got the ball to Conner on the right side of the court where he launched a 25-footer.

The ball was on target but well short as it fell on the baseline as the final horn sounded.

“We were supposed to be on him (Taylor) the whole game but we didn't commit to it. Our kids let up and relaxed and let him score. When you face guard, a guy can't touch. When you let that kind of player touch the ball, he is going to score,” said Coach Gillespie. “It was a break down on the guys who needed to be face guarding him.”

Coach Gillespie's team hasn't won a game in January, losing to Carbondale, Harrisburg, Centralia and now Cairo after winning the Carbondale Holiday Tournament last month.

The Wildcats now stand at 11-6 on the season.

Cairo survived a poor shooting night as well as their own 23-turnovers.

The Pilots were just 18-of-51 overall (35.2 percent) and 7-of-18 from the 3-point arc.

But Coach Wood saw his team get a lot of second chances, which helped them stay close in the first half.

“That (rebounding) was terrible. The worst we have done all year,” said Coach Gillespie. “We haven't won a game in 2018, we have dropped a lot of games in a row and it is frustrating.”

Despite going 4-of-14 in the first quarter and coughing up six-turnovers, Cairo only trailed 14-11 at the end of one.

Marion had chances in the second quarter to pull away as they forced nine of the Pilots' turnovers.

But they committed six-turnovers of their own and led by just seven at the break.

Marion shot the ball well enough to win, hitting 20-of-39 overall (51.2 percent) from the field.

But getting the ball inside was more difficult in the second half for the Wildcats.

“We couldn't get the ball inside as much in the second half because they (Cairo) put so much heat on our guards,” said Coach Gillespie. “They made a good adjustment on our guard and we had more trouble throwing it into the post.”

Adding to the ugliness of the contest was the free throw issues by both teams, other than Taylor.

This stat along proved the senior all-state candidate's importance in the outcome of this matchup.

Marion was 12-of-25 from the line while Cairo was 15-of-25.

If you take away Taylor's foul line trips, the two teams were a combined 17-of-37 (45.9 percent).

Both teams have more work to do this week at Max Morris Gymnasium.

Cairo will play Herrin on Wednesday night at 5:30 pm while Marion will tangle with Carterville later that night at 8:30 pm.

“In the first half we didn't put enough pressure on the ball but in the second half we did. We wanted to pressure the guy with the ball and make it harder to get the post passes to work,” said Coach Wood. “We just had to keep plugging away and finally got the win. It was one of those games that could of gone either way. We were fortunate enough tonight to get the breaks to help us out. The kids are working hard and it is still all about the kids.”

Marion (55) – Conner 3 0 6-8 12, Fletcher 1 0 2-2 4, Houston 4 1 1-4 12, Ziegler 0 1 0-0 3, Schafer 1 1 0-0 5, Henderson 6 0 2-7 14, Johnson 2 0 1-4 5.
2FG-17, 3FG-3, FT-12-25, PF-20.

Cairo (58) – Taylor 5 3 10-13 29, Vaughn 0 0 1-2 1, Jones 0 2 0-0 6, Ward 3 2 1-4 13, Brown 2 0 0-0 4, Hervey 0 0 0-0 0, Morse 1 0 3-4 5.
2FG-11, 3FG-7, FT-15-25, PF-18.

Fouled Out – None.
Technical Fouls – None.