Written by Matt Wixon
Wixon: 'Defending' title takes on deeper meaning for Marcus in semifinal rout of Naaman Forest
Marauders suffocate Naaman, move one step from another title
AUSTIN — Teams often return to the state tournament to defend their championship, but rarely do they take the “defend” part as literally as Flower Mound Marcus.
That was obvious Friday as Marcus squeezed the hope out of Garland Naaman Forest in a Class 5A semifinal.
After holding Naaman Forest scoreless for an eight-minute stretch in the first half, Marcus rolled to a 59-34 victory at the Frank Erwin Center.
The Marauders (38-2) will face Fort Bend Travis (36-3) in Saturday’s 5A championship game.
“We made them take really hard shots, and that’s what our defense is predicated on,” Marcus coach Danny Henderson said. “We just try to make it as difficult as possible to score.”
For Naaman Forest (29-8), scoring was sometimes near impossible.
Naaman Forest made only 27 percent of its field goal attempts (13-of-49) and finished with its lowest scoring total of the season.
Prince Ibeh, the 6-11 center who has signed with Texas, finished with six points and seven rebounds.
“We played aggressive with him,” said Marcus senior guard Marcus Smart. “We’re one of the best defenses in the state, so it was hard for him to get going.”
It was not hard for Smart to get going. The senior had 23 points and 11 rebounds for Marcus, which is trying to become the first 5A team to repeat since Sugar Land Willowridge won titles in 2000 and ’01.
Those Willowridge teams were led by a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans who were future NBA players: guards T.J. Ford and Daniel Ewing.
Marcus has similar star power with Smart, a 6-4 McDonald’s All-American who has signed with Oklahoma State, and Division I signees Phil Forte (Oklahoma State) and Nick Banyard (New Mexico).
But everything starts with defense for Marcus, which has allowed only two teams to score more than 60 points this season.
By midway through the second quarter, it was clear that Naaman Forest wouldn’t get near that total. Marcus held Naaman Forest scoreless from the 2:50 mark of the first quarter until there was 2:10 left in the second.
The game got lopsided when Marcus went on a 15-0 run to take a 22-5 lead. Naaman Forest pulled within 34-21 on a basket by Kent High midway through the third quarter, but then Smart sealed the victory with three typically outstanding plays.
First he rebounded his own miss and completed a three-point play. Then Smart threw an alley-oop to Banyard and dished to Matt Ledford under the basket to give Marcus a 42-21 lead with two minutes left in the third quarter.
Then it was time to look ahead. Marcus, which has won 21 straight, will face Travis, which has won 19 straight and features junior guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison, twin brothers who are among the nation’s top recruits in the Class of 2013.
“It’s been the talk of the town,” Smart said of the expected Marcus-Travis matchup. “We’re just going to go out and play our game and not worry about what they’re doing.”