Considering the last shot of the game mattered, the championship game of the 31st annual West Frankfort Mid-Winter Classic boys basketball tournament delivered as much drama as possible Saturday night.
Marion continued its theme of the tournament by letting a double-digit lead flutter into the Max Morris Gymnasium rafters, but still hung on for a 55-52 victory over Eldorado when the last shots by Kale Oglesby and Max Kasiar missed the mark just before the buzzer.
Eldorado (21-2) came storming back from a 14-point deficit at the end of the third quarter and was within three points after Jacob Traxler"s putback with 9.7 seconds left, then had a chance to tie after Marion"s Nick Williams missed two free throws with 8.5 remaining.
But the Wildcats, who lost big leads in all three of their pool play games, survived and improved to 13-6 for the season, a record that includes going 5-0 at the Pyramid Plus and 4-0 at the Mid-Winter Classic.
"We won it as a team," said Marion first-year coach Dave Brown. "It wasn"t a one-man show and I think that"s more important than anything."
While that was true, Marion senior Justin Shadowens certainly received most of the attention Saturday night, both from his rowdy fellow students in the stands who were counting down his quest to the 1,000-point mark, and from the Eldorado defense that double-teamed him most of the night.
Eldorado coach Josh Bradley said he was well aware that Shadowens needed nine points for the milestone coming into the game — and it looked like a certainty after he made back-to-back layups following steals with 2:30 left in the game to reach 999 career points. Those baskets put Marion ahead, 53-41.
But when he stepped to the foul line with 1:58 remaining, with the Marion students in a froth, Shadowens inexplicably missed two free throws while trying for the magic point and then didn"t get another chance — he even drew an offensive foul trying to get back to the stripe.
"Our goal was to not let him get it," Bradley said. "We didn"t win the game, but we did accomplish that."
Shadowens finished with eight points and was named the tournament"s Most Valuable Player.
"I asked him if he was thinking about it on the line and he said yes," Brown said. "But he"s a great kid. I"ll take Justin Shadowens at the free-throw line for the rest of my life."
The steady senior was joined on the all-tournament team by teammate Jackson Connor, a 6-foot-4 freshman who scored 22 points in Saturday"s win.
Connor had 13 of his points in the first half as Marion built a 28-17 lead at the break, then had eight points in the third when the Wildcats pushed the lead to 44-30. Included in that run was three straight jumpers by senior Jacob Schmid and also Bradley receiving a technical foul that allowed Shadowens two free throws.
But the Eagles fought and clawed in the final minutes, getting layups from Ethan Partridge and Oglesby to pull within five. After a split at the line from Connor, a baseline jumper by Traxler made it 54-50.
"We battled hard," Bradley said. "Marion"s a really good basketball team and we knew we had our work cut out for us. It was a good test to see what we were made of and I thought our kids showed a lot of character tonight. They didn"t quit. When things got a little bleak, we just kept fighting, and that"s all you can ask for as a coach.
"We were a little passive early and didn"t want to really be aggressive. We were too afraid to make a mistake and we needed to just go get it and not be afraid. We did that a little at a time and were able to climb back in it and give ourselves a chance."
Eldorado was just 11 of 24 from the foul line, but Marion was just 16 of 28.
Braden Attebury led Eldorado with 17 points, including a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to keep Marion from running away. John Meredith and Traxler both had eight and Partridge finished with seven. Attebury and Partridge were both named all-tournament.
Marion was again without starting center Terrell Henderson due to a foot injury. Connor more than picked up the slack inside, with Jordan Hollis and Justin Johnson combining for six more points.
"If we knock down our free throws, the lead is extended and they don"t come back," Brown said. "But tip your hat to their guys for hitting shots from the volleyball line. They were hitting the kind where you just shake their hand.
"Eldorado is a good team and they"re going to do great."
Eldorado returns to action Friday on the road at Hamilton County.