Earlier in the day, deep three-pointers and trick shots weren’t enough for Marlon Norris in two games of “H-O-R-S-E” against assistant football coach Lance Vallee.
The Washington High School senior basketball player heard about it all afternoon.
Conventional wisdom led Norris to choosing a much simpler method of scoring when Tuesday night rolled around. Attacking the basket and dominating in the paint, Norris scored a career-high 28 points to keep Washington unbeaten in Class 3A Section 4 with a 59-51 victory over rival McGuffey.
“I was just less timid,” Norris said, “attacking the basket and playing really good defense. The team energy as a whole was good. We work on getting inside a lot, trying to get to the paint for buckets. I was able to get to make some free throws, too.”
The third straight win for Washington (6-0, 9-3) keeps it in outright control of first place in the section standings. Charleroi, which play the Prexies Friday, is one game behind. A second consecutive loss for McGuffey (4-2, 11-4) drops the Highlanders to third place.
It wasn’t only a successful night on offense for Norris, who led all scorers. Defensively, he was in charge of covering McGuffey standout C.J. Cole for a majority of the game. Cole, who kept the Highlanders close in the first half with a trio of three-pointers, finished with 16 points but was limited to one field goal in the second half.
“The biggest obstacle with Marlon is to convince him to be selfish,” Washington coach Ron Faust said. “So many times earlier in the year he was giving up the ball. When he reaches the paint, he is a scorer. He proved that tonight.
“We also assigned him to the best player on the other team. My concern was that he would wear down. He said he was fine. In the second half, he proved that, too. When he wakes up in the morning he is going to be sore.”
It was part of a physical approach the entire night for the Prexies’ offense. Attacking the basket with conviction, Washington made a living inside, either scoring on contested shots or getting to the free-throw line.
After trailing 29-28 at halftime, Tayshawn Levy and Norris went on their own run for the Prexies to give them the lead. Levy made a layup with 7:17 left in the third to tie the score at 30-30. Norris’ layup a minute and a half later contributed to the eight-point run that would put Washington ahead for good.
Levy and Brandon Patterson each finished with 13 for the Prexies, who have played with a shortened bench because of injuries.
“Our starting five was fantastic,” Faust said. “They were really able to grind it out. We don’t have much of a bench right now. We thought we had the opportunity to out-quick (McGuffey) both off the ball and to the basket. Thank goodness that proved to be true.”
Washington’s lead extended to as much as nine points in the fourth quarter. The only time in the fourth the Highlanders trimmed their deficit to one possession was following an Ethan Janovich three-pointer to make it 52-49 with 3:12 left.
“Our guys executed the game plan very well,” McGuffey coach Mike Fatigante said. “We played with winning effort. The difference was (Washington) made plays down the stretch and we didn’t. They made their free throws. We missed.”
The Prexies went 7-for-9 from the foul line in the final three minutes to secure their 14th straight section victory dating back to last season.
“Our kids have been resilient,” Faust said. “I guess they like the challenge of things maybe not going well or not having a full compliment of guys. They take it and make it a positive instead of a negative. They’ve been able to put in the extra time and minutes. I’m glad I have every single one of them.”