By Paul Hines
HERRIN — Mt. Vernon led for three quarters, but Marion surged past the Rams in the final period of the 3A regional semifinals Wednesday night.
Marion claimed a 64-55 victory and advances to Friday's regional final against Carbondale.
“The second half our offense got really stagnant,” Mt. Vernon coach Scott Gamber said. “We didn't score much in the second half.”
Mt. Vernon held a slim 43-42 edge going into the fourth quarter after Marion's Moe Jackson beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer.
The Wildcats took the last-shot momentum and seized their first lead of the game when Robby Dosier converted a lob pass from Jackson to open the final quarter.
Mt. Vernon never recovered.
Marion grew a small edge into a double digit lead in the final minutes of the fourth. Jackson helped Marion hitting nine of 10 free throws in the final period.
“When you get in a hole like that, you got to hope they miss some and Moe didn't,” Gamber said.
Mt. Vernon behind Braden Fitzjerrells lit up the scoreboard early. The sophomore poured in 30 points for the Rams.
Shakari Hawkins was also in double figures with 10.
Moe Jackson led Marion with 29. Carsen Cash didn't miss any of his eight attempts from the field and finished with 17. Most came on layups.
Mt. Vernon built a comfortable cushion in the opening half. Luke Wilson put in a bucket to open the second quarter and give the Rams a 21-14 lead. The advantage grew to double digits midway through the second when Fitzjerrells dropped down a 3-pointer. The shot gave Mt. Vernon a 32-21 lead. It was the biggest advantage of the game for the Rams.
Behind Jackson, Marion marched back into contention before halftime. The Marion point guard hit a shot after a spin move to bring Marion to within nine. Later he generated four straight points to make the score 32-30.
Both offenses struggled at the opening of the second half and combined for just 15 third-quarter points.
“In the first half when our offense was clicking, we got zero stops,” Gamber said. “Then in the third quarter whenever I thought we got them in a little bit of a funk we never took advantage there.”
Mt. Vernon ended its season with a 15-13 overall record.