By PAUL HINES
MT. VERNON —
The Rams have one of their more challenging road trips of the season tonight.
Mt. Vernon travels to Cahokia to face the fourth-ranked Comanches. It’s a place the Rams have had some success with wins each of the last two seasons, but coach Scott Gamber said this season would bring a new test. Cahokia enters the game on top of the South Seven Conference with a 6-1 record with the only loss coming to Mt. Vernon. Cahokia is 23-3 overall.
“This year is a lot different,” Gamber said. “They’re as good as they’ve been since I can remember, this year. And we know they are not going to take us lightly.”
The Rams edged Cahokia earlier this season in overtime at Changnon Gymnasium. Jake Pike led Mt. Vernon with 19 points, and Trevor Flota finished with 17.
“We’ve got to find the balance, like we were fortunate to do here, of keep attacking when there are opportunities, but also be patient when there’s not,” Gamber said. “If you force things when there’s nothing there they can turn those into quick points.”
Cahokia has punished several South Seven teams in its own gym. The Comanches hammered Marion 78-35 without their top scorer Keenan Minor and ripped Carbondale 89-60.
“You have to get off to a good start,” Gamber said. “I think you have to take the energy out of the gym early. You can do that by being patient early in the game. And if you can get off to a decent start, I think you’ll give yourself a chance, but that’s a lot easier said than done.”
The Comanches full-court press defense will once again test the Rams. Mt. Vernon received some positive news this week regarding starting point guard Jarron Liddell. The senior is available to play against the Comanches, Gamber said. Liddell practiced Wednesday after missing the Rams last two games with a dislocated shoulder. Liddell adds another ball handler and veteran experience to Mt. Vernon’s lineup.
The Comanches have a multitude of scoring options to throw at the Rams’ defense. Darius Austin hammered the Rams interior in the opening matchup and led the Comanches in scoring. Cahokia can also turn to Minor along with Carleton Rivers, Derenzo Jennings and Vincent Jackson. Jennings went scoreless in the first matchup, and Rivers was limited to four points.
“It’s no secret, you have to concentrate a whole lot on Minor. And you have to concentrate a whole lot on Austin,” Gamber said. “At some point, if those other guys are clicking you’re just going to have a rough night.
“There is no way that we can take away all five guys that they have on the floor.”
Friday’s game starts with the junior varsity matchup at 6:15 p.m.