CEDAR RAPIDS — Incredible program, incredible run, incredible player. The most incredible comeback.
“We kind of stole this one. I’m not going to lie,” Linn-Mar’s Marcus Paige said after his team’s 83-77 double-overtime win over Cedar Rapids Kennedy in a Class 4A substate final Tuesday night that was, in a word, incredible.
Paige cemented his status as the best boys’ basketball player ever to come out of the Metro by scoring 49 points, including a coldblooded 3-pointer from about 22 feet that tied things at 61-61 with 8.5 seconds left in regulation. The North Carolina recruit had a four-point play with 19 seconds to go, nailing a corner trey and ensuing free throw to somehow bring his outplayed team within one possession.
A full-court press produced a turnover on Kennedy’s inbounds pass. Paige then coolly dribbled the ball from the backcourt to the frontcourt, took a high screen to the right of the hoop, spun to his left and let it fly.
There weren’t many of the 2,500 people at a packed-to-the-gills Cedar Rapids Prairie gym that doubted it was going in.
“I didn’t realize how deep I was,” said Paige, whose team trailed virtually the entire game, by 10 points after three quarters and by nine with a minute left. “I wasn’t ready to end the season with the guys.”
“That shot at the end. Wow, there’s not much you can say,” said Linn-Mar Coach Chris Robertson. “It doesn’t get too much better than that ... I think people have finally started to realize just how special he is. I’m glad I get to coach him at least one more game.”
The fifth-ranked Lions (19-4) play Mississippi Valley Conference foe Dubuque Senior (18-5) in a state tournament quarterfinal, Wednesday, March 7, at 6:35, their ninth straight trip to Des Moines.
“We were down after the third quarter, and me and Marcus kind of pulled the guys aside and said ‘We are going to make it nine straight. This is not going to be Marcus’ last game,’” said Linn-Mar’s Matt Lassen. “It’s just kind of what Marcus does. He’s an incredibly clutch player.”
Paige was just 3 of 16 from the field in the regular-season meeting between these teams, a 56-51 Kennedy victory. But he was literally Linn-Mar's only offense throughout most of this game.
He had 21 of his team's 24 points in the first half, all of its field goals. At one point in the third quarter, he had made 8 of 12 shots to 1 of 17 for his teammates.
That changed some, with Lassen hitting a pair of big 3-pointers and Jimmy Roth one.
"I told my guys 'People might chant one-man team,'" Robertson said. "And Marcus is a big part of it. But we had a lot of other guys step up late."
"Once we got to overtime, I felt pretty confident that we were going to win," Paige said.
This was an absolutely crushing defeat for No. 8 Kennedy (15-7), which got a brilliant 28-point, 11-rebound game from center Elliott Christians. The Cougars used their size and strength inside very well, finishing with a 45-26 rebound advantage.
Paige was able to foul out Kennedy guards Trevor Heitland and Darius Fuller late, and wingman Josiah Coleman also fouled out, which was critical in the overtimes. Christians fouled out in the second OT.
Fuller finished with 11 points and Coleman 10.
"I honestly believe in the last three to four weeks, our basketball team is one of the top three or four teams in our league," said Kennedy Coach Bob Fontana. "Tonight was a state tournament caliber game. It's unfortunate, but this was how the substates were put together this year."
Fontana bemoaned some missed free throws down the stretch in regulation that gave Linn-Mar hope, even though it was just a glimmer. Even more galling for Kennedy was Patrick Martin’s jumper from about a foot inside the 3-point line that went in and out at the regulation buzzer, with Martin falling to the floor in despondency.
Paige missed a trey at the end of the first OT.
“We drew up something there at the end,” Fontana said. “I told Pat ‘Hey, if it’s not there, then make a play.’ I thought it was down. Halfway down. That’s basketball. I just feel really sorry for our kids.”
Here is the game boxscore and a link to the state tournament pairings in Class 4A. Here also is some video of Paige's tying shot in regulation, from the scorer's table, as well as video of Martin's near miss eight seconds later:
AT C.R. PRAIRIE
C.R. KENNEDY (77): Cody Bell 3-8 1-4 8, Josiah Coleman 3-7 4-4 10, Elliott Christians 6-10 16-21 28, Trevor Heitland 1-3 2-3 5, Darius Fuller 3-6 4-7 11, Alex Hayden 1-10 0-0 3, Josh Jahlas 1-1 1-2 3, Patrick Martin 4-9 1-2 9, Ben Struss 0-1 0-0 0, A.J. Carter 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-56 29-43 77.
LINN-MAR (83): Jimmy Roth 2-5 0-0 5, Matt Lassen 2-7 4-7 10, Derik Gogg 0-1 0-0 0, Andy Henry 0-6 2-4 2, Marcus Paige 14-24 15-19 49, Matt Meier 2-4 2-3 7, Zach Martins 0-1 1-2 1, Jon Schlotterback 1-2 3-4 1-2 3-4 5, Nate Dick 0-0 4-8 4. Totals 21-50 31-47 83.Halftime — Kennedy 27, Linn-Mar 24. End of Regulation — Kennedy 61, Linn-Mar 61. End of first OT — Kennedy 67, Linn-Mar 67. 3-point goals — Kennedy 4-22 (Bell 1-5, Coleman 0-2, Heitland 1-3, Fuller 1-1, Hayden 1-9, Martin 0-1, Carter 0-1), Linn-Mar 10-23 (Roth 1-3, Lassen 2-4, Paige 6-10, Henry 0-2, Meier 1-3, Martins 0-1). Rebounds — Kennedy 45 (Christians 11), Linn-Mar 26 (Henry 9). Total fouls — Kennedy 32, Linn-Mar 26. Fouled out — Coleman, Christians, Heitland, Fuller, Gogg, Schlotterback. Turnovers — Kennedy 16, Linn-Mar 12.