By Paul Hines
MT. VERNON —
The Rams basketball team heads into a critical conference clash tonight without one of its starters.
Mt. Vernon hosts Belleville Althoff, but point guard Gilwan Nelson will be missing from the lineup. The junior suffered a broken nose in Thursday's practice. Coach Scott Gamber said the injury occurred early in the session during a transition drill when he was elbowed on a rebound.
“He's definitely out for at least (tonight),” Gamber said. “And then hopefully maybe by next week he'll be able to go.”
Nelson has functioned as one of the primary ballhandlers for the Rams this season. His absence will push sophomore Braden Fitzjerrells into the point guard spot, Gamber said. Jake Pike will play the off guard, and Luke Wilson will move into the starting lineup. The injury could also mean added minutes for guard Blake Jones coming off the bench.
“Anytime you lose a starter I think you can replace initially, but once you start subbing and foul situations that's when it really starts showing,” Gamber said.
The South Seven Conference matchup between Mt. Vernon and Althoff was originally on the schedule for last month, but poor winter weather pushed the game to the new year.
“Althoff's a very, very good basketball team,” Gamber said. “I think when we were scheduled to first play them there were a lot of question marks about us and them. It would have been right after the Thanksgiving tournament. You just didn't know a lot about anybody.”
Althoff like many other South Seven teams has been strong this season, despite an 0-2 conference record. The Crusaders have three losses on the season overall. Althoff lost to two-time defending conference champion Cahokia and regional champ Carbondale along with traditional power Lincoln. The Crusaders' wins include East St. Louis.
“They beat some good teams in the Collinsville tournament,” Gamber said. “To beat East St. Louis, that's a quality, quality win. And to play Lincoln as close as they did. Lincoln had been blasting everybody in that tournament.”
Mt. Vernon struggled in a loss at home against Marion and close win at Waterloo, but followed Christmas with a third-place finish at the Effingham-Teutopolis Christmas Classic.
Gamber said one of the most critical aspects for the Rams is containing the Crusaders' driving abilities.
“If we can't stop their drive, they're going to kill us,” Gamber said. “We're going to have to start with stopping that.”
Althoff's offense is led by a pair of young players. Jordan Goodwin paces the team as a freshman, and Brendan Gooch is the second leading scorer as a sophomore.
“They've got a lot of weapons,” Gamber said. “They can score in a lot of different ways.”
Tonight's matchup starts with the junior varsity game at 6:15 p.m.