Muncie Central held a firm, double-digit lead against North Central Conference foe Marion with time running out for the Giants in the fourth quarter. Some frustration was beginning to build on the Marion sideline with no success coming on the court.
The emotions eventually boiled over onto the hardwood.
On a loose ball, Bearcats senior Brady McNabb went after the ball which was in the hands of sophomore Tim Jones of Marion on the floor. McNabb eventually ripped the ball away from Jones who took issue with the seniors' aggressiveness on defense.
As both were jogging back down the court, Jones shoved McNabb from behind sending him flying down to the ground. From there both sides ran over and pushing and shoving ensued.
“It was all a blur,” Bearcats head coach Justin Ullom said. “That stuff happens from time to time, but I felt we did a nice job of having composure, and they did as well in order to come back out and finish the game.”
Jones seemingly was looking to throw punches at some Muncie Central players on the court. Both benches cleared to come to their respective teams' aid, with Muncie Central senior DeMarkis Cole and Jones closing in on trading blows.
“I just wanted to stop it,” Cole said. “I’m not the type of kid to let that escalate, I just wanted to get the game over and get a win.”
The fight was well handled by officials and coaches who interfered quickly, not letting it escalate much further than it already had. As Jones was escorted off the court by a coach, he seemed to take issue with some of the fans near the locker room and began pushing fans on his way back to the locker room.
With all that happened, there was nearly a 20-minute delay to determine whether or not the game would resume with 4:51 remaining.
“I told the officials and administration that I was comfortable doing what they decide,” Ullom said. “They got together and thought, ‘This is Muncie Central and Marion, a great game, two great schools and historical programs, we needed to finish the game,’ and I think we did it the right way.”
Both sides were assessed technical fouls and the game resumed. To close the game, cool heads prevailed with no more chippiness to be found for the remainder of the game.
The white and purple closed out the remaining five minutes strong with its defense forcing turnovers and getting transition buckets to close out the game for a 70-53 victory.
It was the 100th all-time meeting between Muncie Central (6-11) and Marion (6-10), and the Bearcats won the previous meeting between the two schools, but had lost nine out of the last ten overall meetings.
The game opened up with both sides playing sloppy with four total turnovers in the first two minutes. Eventually, both squads settled into the game and found offensive footing.
For Muncie Central, half-court sets were very effective against the Giants' defense despite the height and length advantage of the Marion defenders.
“We’re always outsized,” Ullom said. “Landon Wells and LJ Strange were great on the boards, and DeMarkis [Cole] was also active, which helped us.”
The purple and black were getting offense going in transition and getting out on the run after missed Bearcat baskets. With both sides settling in, it was a back-and-forth affair for most of the first quarter, ending the period knotted up at 13.
The second started with a massive run from Muncie Central. The 3-point shot was falling seemingly every time a Bearcat put it up.
“We moved the ball a lot,” McNabb said. “We got everyone shots, and everyone got open [because] we moved well and played together.”
With the barrage from 3-point range, the Bearcats were able to extend the lead to 30-18 midway through the second quarter forcing a Marion timeout. Immediately following the timeout, the Giants responded with a run of their own to close the deficit to just two.
Muncie Central did just enough offensively to keep the Giants at arm's length heading into the locker room with a 35-28 lead.
“We drove the ball hard,” Ullom said. “We got great looks and no one took the early ones or too quick of a contested shot.”
To open the third quarter, the Bearcats continued to flex their muscles from beyond the arc. Shockingly, the purple and black didn’t take a timeout to regroup which allowed Muncie Central to continue to push its lead to close the third quarter 57-40.
“We stayed focused,” Cole said. “They felt like they had the game early but we kept [it together.]”
Once the fourth quarter hit, the Bearcats’ defense started to take over by making the Giants uncomfortable and forcing turnovers despite their size disadvantage. When all was said and done, Muncie Central earned its first NCC win since Dec. 8, 2023, and its first overall win since Dec. 30.
“We talked about our losing streak coming into this one,” Ullom said. “Those were some of the toughest teams in the state. But we were better at the end of each one of those games, and maybe being at home for a little while can string a few together.”
Muncie Central will remain at home for its next game to take on Pendleton Heights (9-10) Feb 6 at 7:30 p.m. Marion will travel to Warsaw (11-4) to take on the Tigers Feb. 6 with tip-off set for 7:30 p.m.