Mar’kese Jackson was built for basketball games like the one Bellarmine Prep played Thursday.
The Lions faced off with a much bigger, more physical Kentwood group – with four guys 6-foot-2 or taller.
So Jackson, sturdy in his own right, kept it simple: If you can’t move them, go by them.
His relentless attack of the basket was the difference, and the Lions grabbed an impressive 59-48 victory over the Conquerors in Kent.
Bellarnine Prep (12-10) will play Greater St. Helens 4A champion Union in the West Central District quarterfinals at Auburn High School on Saturday. With another victory, the Lions would clinch their fourth consecutive round-of-16 berth.
Of course, a 17-0 scoring spurt will help anyone’s cause. Bellarmine Prep’s perimeter defense forced one turnover after another in erasing a deficit to start the second quarter.
When the time Malachi Flynn sank a soft jumper with 2:01 to go in the first half, it marked the 12th consecutive possession in which the Lions scored, turning a small deficit into a 31-15 lead.
“We didn’t want them to be comfortable running their stuff, passing it into their big guys,” Bellarmine Prep coach Bernie Salazar said. “We did a pretty good job with stopping that.”
Once the Conquerors settled down and got the ball into the paint to the likes of Darious Lubom (10 points), Terence Grady (nine points), Malik Sanchez (eight points), they slowly chipped away at the Bellarmine Prep lead.
And Sanchez’s short baseline floater cut it to 44-42 with 3:55 remaining.
The Lions’ patient passing, mixed in with Jackson’s hard drives to the basket, won out. They answered by going on a 9-0 run, highlighted by Jackson’s up-the-middle layup past two Kentwood defenders, to grab a 55-43 lead with 1:03 to go.
“When they try and pressure you are, the easiest way to get baskets is go by them,” Jackson said. “There is no reason to play around.”
Jackson finished with 20 points on 8-for-19 shooting. Rex Bodoia added 12, and Flynn had 11. Bellarmine Prep finished making 21 of its 44 field goal attempts, and forced 17 Conquerors’ turnovers.
“When you dig yourselves that big of a hole, it is too tough to come out of,” Kentwood coach Blake Solomon said. “When we didn’t score for that four minutes (to start the second quarter), transition bucket after transition bucket became tough to defend.”
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