By Paul Hines
MT. VERNON —
The Rams scored a critical conference win over a solid opponent Friday night.
Mt. Vernon knocked off Althoff 69-62. The Rams improved to 1-2 in South Seven Conference play.
“It puts us back with a fighting chance, and we lose today's game we've really got our backs against the wall,” Mt. Vernon coach Scott Gamber said. “Tonight was just a good win.”
Mt. Vernon sealed the victory, hitting 10 of 12 free throws in the final quarter. The high percentage at the line helped Mt. Vernon hold its slender lead. Althoff also fired up several 3-pointers that missed in the final moments.
“The key was the right guys were shooting (foul shots),” Gamber said.
Braden Fitzjerrells led the Rams with 24 points. Shakari Hawkins added 16. Doug Gardner had 11, and Jake Pike added 10.
Mt. Vernon played the game without starting point guard Gilwan Nelson who broke his nose in practice earlier this week.
“I thought we played really well,” Gamber said. “I thought Luke (Wilson) gave us huge minutes.”
The game was close throughout the opening half as both teams battled for control. Althoff took an early edge before Gardner nailed a 3-pointer to end the opening quarter. The game was knotted at 16 after the first.
Althoff again built a slender advantage in the second quarter. Jordan Goodwin hit three straight shots, including a dunk to give the Crusaders a 24-21 edge. Goodwin led all scorers with 25 points.
Mt. Vernon managed to steal the lead back. Althoff was called for a technical for not having a player written down in the official scorebook. Fitzjerrells buried a free throw on the technical to give Mt. Vernon a 25-24 lead. He followed with a trey to push the margin to 28-24. More Fitzjerrells free throws nudged the cushion to 30-24. Wilson ended the half with a 3-pointer that answered an Althoff run that had cut the deficit to one.
Mt. Vernon opened the back-and-forth third quarter strong. The Rams seized a 44-35 on a 3-point play with 5:23 left in the third. Both teams raced up and down the court in a score-fest quarter that saw a total of 43 points tallied between the two teams. Again Mt. Vernon ended the quarter with a score. This time it was Hawkins who hit a floater to put the Rams up 55-50.
Althoff closed to within 55-53 to open the fourth but could never grab the lead. Mt. Vernon kept the Crusaders at bay with the solid foul shooting, despite four turnovers in the period.
“It's nice to close out a game like that,”Gamber said. “We've not done that this year, especially against a quality opponent.”
Mt. Vernon is 10-3 overall this season and 1-2 in South Seven Conference play. The Rams host Lovejoy on Tuesday.