The Mark Twain boys basketball team closed the third quarter with 17 unanswered points Friday night en route to a 68-35 win over Marion County.

If players on the Mark Twain boys basketball team thought they were in for a low-key halftime message on the merit of their 16-point lead, Cody McCann proved them wrong Friday night.

The first-year coach pointed out a lack of discipline and grit in his Tigers, calling them out for forcing low-percentage shots and not outworking their opponent.

“It woke us up and made us realize what was going on and we fixed it,” sophomore Jace Barton said of the message. “We had a lack of effort. We were taking it as an easy win and not hustling as we should.”

Marion County came out of the break firing for consecutive 3-pointers by Carson Bock, but Mark Twain closed the period with 17 unanswered points to take a commanding 53-26 edge into the fourth.

The message was received.

The visiting Mustangs failed to score a point the final 5 minutes, 4 seconds of the third as the Tigers took full control of what ultimately became a 68-35 win.

“We finally figured it out,” McCann said. “Our shots weren't going in early and we weren't really executing that well, but we found a way to pick it up in the second half.

“When we were moving the ball well, we were rolling. But it's when we got the ball and we held onto it that we struggled. They need each other to win ballgames, they can't do it by themselves. Tonight, especially in the third quarter, they really showed that.”

A big part of the Tigers success was from its biggest player, senior Grant Peters. The 6-foot-7 center led both teams with his 27 points, including six during the 17-0 third-quarter spurt and seven more in the fourth. He also collected 12 rebounds.

The out-sized Mustangs tried to counter with a zone defense but couldn't slow Peters.

“When you get the ball on the wing and see his hands shoot up 10 feet in the air, you just throw it up to him and he does the rest,” said Barton, who finished with four points and eight assists. 

Peters, who finished 11-for-17 from the field, was unwilling to take the credit but admitted he wanted to take his team on his back for its second win of the season.

“I was looking for the ball down low,” Peters said. “This is home court and I can take care of this game. I can't do anything else but credit my teammates because they fed me and look what happened.”

Devin Neff and Corbin Eckler connected for back-to-back threes in the final 20 seconds of the third quarter to balloon the hosts' lead to 27.

The Tigers hit six of 12 shots from behind the arc.

Marion County coach Justin Ellison mentioned he felt his squad was still in the game entering the second half.

“Ultimately I still had a good feeling into the third quarter,” the coach said. “We let it get up to 15 in the second quarter, but we battled. But once it got to 20, we lost it.”

Case Wolfe led Marion County with 12 points. The sophomore knocked down four 3-pointers in an effort to keep the Mustangs in the game.

Wolfe also led the visitors with eight rebounds. 

“Overall he's probably our best knockdown shooter, and we have guys who are good about driving and kicking out,” Ellison said of Wolfe. “When he gets open looks, I feel pretty confident he can knock them down.”

Aidan Epperson finished with nine points and six assists for Mark Twain. All but two of Epperson's points came in the second quarter as the Tigers started to show some life with a 12-0 run.

But Marion County battled back, reaching the line for 10 free throw attempts in the period before Mustang senior Ty Bowdish passed to Tony Lange for a bucket right before the buzzer to send the visitors into halftime down 36-20.

Preston Eckler scored four points, grabbed five rebounds and pickpocketed three steals, while Neff scored eight points and Corbin Eckler added seven.

Sheldon Whetstone added six points and five rebounds for Marion County.

The Mustangs struggled to maintain possession with 24 turnovers.

Both teams play at the Monroe City Tournament beginning Monday.