Defense pushes FM Marcus into state title game

(Box score from the UIL)

AUSTIN, Texas -- Fort Bend Hightower tried to wiggle its way out of Flower Mound Marcus' suffocating system in as many ways as possible.

The Hurricanes played zone defense. They played man defense. They tried a full-court press. They tried to push the ball, run the floor and even took Marcus head on in the half-court.

Nothing worked.

Marcus methodically picked apart Hightower in a 53-41 win on Friday in the Class 5A state semifinals at UT's Frank Erwin Center, advancing to its first state title game.

The Marauders will play Garland Lakeview Centennial at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

"We definitely have a distinct style that we believe in playing," Marcus head coach Danny Henderson said. "We really believe in ours. It's based on defense and sharing the ball a lot."

Marcus (38-1) imposed its will on Hightower from the opening tip in a game in which the Marauders ground the pace into a halt. The two teams scored a combined 16 points in the first quarter and Marcus held a 19-15 lead into halftime.

Hightower (29-8) went into a man defense to open the second half in hopes of speeding up the pace. It did, but it still favored Marcus.

Phil Forte, who finished with a team-high 11 points, opened the third quarter by hitting a pair of 3-pointers in transition as Marcus extended its lead to 33-25 heading into a fourth quarter where the Marauders took advantage of a Hightower team that pushed too hard to catch up.

"They came out in a zone to start," Forte said. "The second half they came out in man and I actually think we played better against the pressure man-to-man. We executed what the coaches tell us."

As usual, Marcus' win came as a result of a collective effort. Austin Bianco (eight points, six rebounds) scored most of his points while Marcus struggled to find its legs in the first quarter.

Connor Taggart (nine points) and Nick Banyard (10 points) helped close out the game in the fourth quarter while the latter did an excellent job defending Hightower's Danuel House in the paint.

But once again it was Marcus Smart who fueled the Marauders, stifling Hightower with his hustling defensive plays and sparking Marcus' offense with the same intensity. He finished with 11 points and nine rebounds.