By Chuck Livingston Sports Editor
In the eighth and final game of the 2015 Marion Patriot Classic, Tennessee Preparatory Academy took the floor at Patriot Arena wearing warm-up shirts adorned with big, bold letters spelling out “Diplomat Basketball.” Their gold jerseys were also adorned with the word “Diplomat.” So imagine most people’s surprise when the team was announced as the “Lions” during the starting lineups. That identity crisis kicked off a night of strangeness as Memphis-area team topped Marion 70-67 in overtime in a game featuring 48 personal fouls, 6 technical fouls and 66 total turnovers. 36 of those turnovers belonged to Marion and for the second straight night, the Pats were haunted by some shaky free throw shooting, knocking down just 24 of 41 charities, including 4 of 8 in the fourth quarter and overtime. “This all boils down again to free throws and we’re just not physically tough enough. We’re too soft, man,” said Marion head coach Irving Clay. “We are loaded with seniors out here, but we’re soft. If we continue to play like this then we won’t win another basketball game because we are too soft.” Tennessee Prep (3-0 overall) dressed only 9 players out, but it was Marion (1-2 overall) that was devastated by fouls as starting forwards Shaun Doss and Marlon Warren each fouled out late in the contest. Doss would leave the game with 20 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals while Warren checked out with 7 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. While Tennessee Prep hit the floor with a variety of dunks that pleased the crowd, it was Marion that started fast, bolting out to an early 12-3 lead. From there, the game tightened up considerably with the Lions dominating on the glass 54-33, highlighted by 26 offensive boards. When Tennessee Prep wasn’t creating second-chance opportunities for themselves, they were turning the Pats over in prime positions on the floor. On multiple occasions, the Lions would rip the ball away from a would-be Patriot rebounder, opening the door for an easy layup. That strategy earned Tennessee Prep a 16-16 tie after a quarter. While the first quarter saw some sloppy ballhandling, the second stanza would be a foul frenzy with each team combining for 31 free throws in that frame. At the break, the teams would combine for 30 total personal fouls whistled as Marion led 34-33 as senior A.J. Latham hit for 9 of his team-high 23 points in that period. In the second half, the Lions came out in a full-court press that turned the tables. “We do that a lot (press), we want to make the other guards uncomfortable,” explained Tennessee Prep head coach Harold Rayford Jr. “I had scouted this team and knew that if we were able to keep the pressure on their top guards then we could get to them sooner or later.” In the second half, neither team ever led by more than 3 points and it was the Lions that looked poised to win late in regulation when Adam Saeed came up with an offensive rebound and drew a foul with 1.8 seconds left on the clock and the score knotted at 62-all. Saeed hit for a game-high 27 points, but missed each of his freebies and Deontre Moore rebounded the second miss, one of his game-high 9 boards, to send the game to overtime. Once there, Marion senior Mike Davis scored the last two of his 6 points on the night to give the Pats the first lead, but it was all Lions from there, who hit the Pats with a closing run of 8-3, keyed by a 4 of 6 showing from the free throw line to clinch the final. “They called this game as though it was an MYSA or Boys Club game,” Clay said. “This summer, I went to the basketball clinic. The point of emphasis was hand-checking and forearm bars. I haven’t seen that yet. I bring it up to the officials on the court and I get a technical foul for it… We’re getting beat up down here and we can’t even get a call? Come on man.” Marion will remain at home when they host Conway High School on Tuesday, December 1 at 5 p.m. That contest will feature the junior varsity and varsity boys. After that, the Pats will play at the West Memphis Blue Devil Classic on December 4 and 5.