The Pioneer boys’ basketball team didn’t run and hide or feel sorry for themselves or pass out excuses at the door when star point guard Drew Lowder went down with a bad ankle in the second quarter against Skyline.
Instead, the Pioneers soldiered on, found out some things about players on the roster including a few who stepped up and helped fill the void and have now put themselves in a good position for the stretch run and beyond.
“When Drew got hurt he was starting to learn that he needs to distribute the ball too and not just score,” Marion said. “In the game against Belleville and then in the quarter he played against Skyline he had 12 assists and three turnovers in those five quarters. Those are two very good teams and he was starting to not only be able to score it, but break defenses down and get other people involved in the offense which was a great sign.”
Marion admits that it’s a fine line because Lowder is at his best when he is scoring the basketball and doesn’t want him to go away from his strengths. Finding his own shot compared to when he should distribute is a line the junior is still trying to figure out.
“He was shooting 48 percent from the field and 56 percent on twos before he got hurt,” Marion said. “So, you do want him shooting the basketball. He’s very efficient.”
Marion did discover some things from his players during those five games without Lowder. Sophomore Robert VanRenterghem, who had 10 points against Jackson, has stepped up in the last five to six weeks, senior Jacob Williams “did some good things” and Alex Cunningham at the three “has figured things out.”
Marion said Jack Fitzgerald at the four has been doing a little bit of everything for the Pioneers and Kasean Pryor has had some really good stretches, including Tuesday when he had 21 points and 11 rebounds vs. Jackson.
“Our perimeter players have had to play bigger roles without Drew and they figured some things out and we as coaches figured out what their strengths are and how to best use them,” Marion said. “We have a better idea now of where to play them to best take advantage of their skills. We figured a lot of things out.”
Lowder isn’t only one of the best players in the city and the area, he’s one of the top guards in the state. Only a junior, Lowder already has several Division 1 offers on the table including from Eastern Michigan University, Northern Illinois and Toledo.
With a healthy Lowder back in the lineup and others earning valuable experience having played bigger roles, the Pioneers could be a very dangerous team when the Districts roll around.
“We have seven regular-season games left and the loss against Huron was a wake-up call that we were not where we needed to be especially defensively,” Marion said. “We’ve made some nice strides defensively. We did a good job against Saline on Friday so that was a good sign, especially playing that well without Drew.
“We did a good job defensively against Jackson in the first half (Tuesday) but we did not play well defensively in the second half. Our offense carried us but we don’t want to be a team that just goes out there and tries to outscore people. This is not a track meet.”
While they may have learned a lot over the last few weeks, everyone is glad to have Lowder back on the floor.
Lowder, who missed five complete games, was cleared to play on Monday and even though he played limited minutes scored 18 points in Tuesday’s 85-78 win over Jackson High. He knocked down three triples and made 5 of 8 shots from the field as he showed little signs of rust.
“He played in smaller increments than he usually does but was still very productive for us,” Marion said. “We put him in with about 3 minutes to go in the first quarter and he looked pretty good. We went back to him at the 4 minute mark of the second quarter and he looked comfortable so we let him finish the first half.”
The Pioneers increased his playing time only slightly in the second half.
“What impressed me the most was that his timing and conditioning was pretty good after just one practice,” Marion said. “And we faced a pretty good team. It was a competitive game. For him to do that in that setting and play under control was impressive. It was more than we could have hoped for.”
The ankle seems to be strong if not 100 percent. Marion didn’t see any ill effects in the game and he wasn’t sore the day after – all great signs for the Pioneers. But just to be safe, Marion plans on limiting his playing time again on Friday against Bedford.