The lead was dwindling and the momentum had switched.

And it was obvious that Jim Thorpe needed some kind of spark.

Fortunately for the Olympians, Robert Freeman was on the floor.

With his team's double-digit advantage cut to just four entering the fourth quarter, Freeman opened the final frame with back-to-back three-pointers. That quick burst of offense started an 18-7 run that helped lift Thorpe to a 55-42 win over rival Marian in the opening round of the Panther Valley Tip-Off Tournament.

"What can I say about Robert Freeman," said Olympian head coach Brian Carroll. "We were stagnant, almost dead in the water and he was just 'Steady Eddie' and hit some big shots when we needed them.

"Marian was creeping back in it, and their defense was frustrating us. Robert just righted the ship and kept us afloat, That gave us some momentum back and after that we didn't look back."

After Freeman drained his long-distance shots, Thorpe got back to its running game. Dane Ciavarella hit three driving shots during the run and Jaquan Brown added an inside buckets that turned a 37-33 margin into a 55-40 gap with just over two minutes to play in the game.

"They hit some big shots," said Marian mentor John Patton. "And it's not like they rattled around and went in, they were pure. They're a talented team. We knew if they got out and ran on us we'd be in trouble. And they did. They got some easy transition points.

"We fought back, though. I saw a lot of good things from some of our guys and hopefully we can build on it."

Everyone saw a lot of good things from the Olympians' PJ Johnson in the first half.

The slick guard poured in 19 points before the break, displaying both his quickness to the basket and his range from the perimeter.

"PJ played phenominal in the first half," said Carroll. "He was just on fire. He's really worked at his game. A couple years ago, we wouldn't even let him shoot a three. He's worked on it to the point where he feels confident. He was stroking it early."

Johnson's scoring helped Thorpe jump out to a 31-22 halftime lead, and the quick guard hit a jumper early in the third period that extended the bulge to 11.

The Colts, however, battled their way back into the game.

Ryan Karnish hit a big three-pointer and Alden Whah, Eric Swankoski and Anthony Agosto all hit shots during a stretch that pulled Marian within four.

"Whah did a good job inside and he battled hard," said Patton. "We just got Swankoski and Karnish back, and Agosti did a good job of handling the pressure for the most part."

Whah finished with a team-high 16 points and 13 rebounds while Agosti chipped in with nine. Johnson led the Olympians (1-0) with 21 points while Ciavarella contributed 14. Freeman finished with eight and Darius Clark chipped in with seven.

"This win is huge," said Carroll. "We came up here last year and lost both games. That left us down and out, and trying to find ourselves.

"Tonight we gained confidence. What a difference a year makes. A win does so much for your confidence."

Jim Thorpe will meet Mahanoy Area in tonight's championship game at 7:30 while Marian (0-1) faces host Panther Valley in the consolation round at 6 p.m.

MARIAN

Whah 5-6-9-16, Kweder 0-0-0-0, Karnish 2-0-0-6, Pilla 1-3-6-5, Motil 1-0-0-2, Julian 0-0-0-0, Richards 0-0-2-0, Swankoski 1-2-2-4, Bilka 0-0-0-0, Weber 0-0-0-0, Agosti 3-3-6-9, Brown 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 13-14-25-42.

JIM THORPE

Harleston 0-0-0-0, Moore 0-1-2-1, Ciavarella 6-0-0-14, Freeman 3-0-0-8, Brown 2-0-0-4, Clark 2-3-3-7, Johnson 7-4-9-21, Ennis 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 20-8-14-55.

Marian 15 7 11 9 - 42

Jim Thorpe 15 16 6 18 - 55

Three-pointers: Marian - Karnish 2; Jim Thorpe - Johnson 3, Ciavarella 2, Freeman 2.