No. 1 North Marion boys finish third at Crusader Classic
The North Marion boys took a tour of some of the best small-school basketball teams at the annual Crusader Classic New Year's Invitational and nearly came out unscathed.
The Huskies went 2-1 at the Salem Academy tournament, falling 67-54 to two-time 2A state finalist Columbia Christian in the semifinals on Friday before rebounding with a 68-54 victory over the 2A Kennedy Trojans in the third-place game on Saturday.
It was a rare opportunity for North Marion to match up against the kind of opposition the team doesn't get to see very often during the regular season — small, uber-talented schools with little knowledge of each other on the court.
"I really enjoy the Salem Academy tournament, because it gives us a chance to play teams we wouldn't normally play," North Marion head coach Tully Wagner said. "It's good to see different opponents where you don't really know what they have, and they don't know what you have to see how the kids can adjust without a concrete game plan."
The Huskies opened the tournament with a 71-51 win over Portland Adventist Academy on Thursday. The victory fell in line with the team's offensive modus operandi this season. North Marion has scored 70 points or more in seven of 10 games and has come within a bucket or two of hitting the 70-point mark in two other contests — including the win over the Trojans.
"Scoring 70 is crazy," Wagner said, noting that the milestone isn't necessarily a team goal, but a byproduct of how the Huskies play. "We hope that we can be a high-scoring team just because we want to get out and speed the game up."
On the opposite side of that is the team's defense, which has surrendered 60 or more points in seven games — a number that is far too high for Wagner's comfort moving forward.
"We hope that as the season progresses, we can be a better defensive team," Wagner said. "I think that we need to improve as a team, defensively. We do pretty well in individual matchups and, a lot of the times, our guys are in a position to succeed in our one-on-one matches.
"Those times that we get beat, we need to get better on our help rotations."
Against Columbia Christian, John Page led the team with 20 points, while sophomore Payton Meyers came off the bench to score 15 — all off of 3-pointers.
"Johnny has had a really good first half of the season," Wagner said. "He creates a lot of problems for opponents because he can step out and shoot.
"Payton's been really good coming in, (too). We knew that we might have an increased need for shooting this year, because we lost a bunch of guys who that was their specialty," Wagner continued. "It's kind of nice that he's also 6-3, because he can get his shot off a little bit easier, as well as he can use his length on the defensive end."
Against Kennedy, Sergio Jimenez led the team with 28 points, while Page had 10.
The No. 1 Huskies (8-2) were scheduled to travel to defending 4A state champion No. 4 Banks (7-4) on Tuesday, Jan. 7 before returning home to take on Valley Catholic (2-8) on Tuesday, Jan. 14. The team's final non-conference game is at No. 7 Seaside (8-2) on Jan. 17.
"It's definitely a good way to end our non-league schedule," Wagner said. "They've all been deep in the playoffs the last four or five years. It's going to be a good test, and I know that our guys are excited about that. We want to see the best teams in the state, and we want to just go out and compete and see what we have."
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