By PAUL HINES
MT. VERNON —
The Rams face their toughest challenge so far this season when Cahokia comes to Changnon Gymnasium tonight.
The Comanches enter the matchup unbeaten this season at 8-0 overall and 2-0 in the South Seven Conference. The Rams dealt the reigning conference champs their lone South Seven loss a season ago.
“You have to play so well and so smart if you’re going to beat them,” Mt. Vernon coach Scott Gamber said.
The Comanches return a host of players and showcase Keenan Minor, who enters the game averaging 21 points a game. Darius Austin (10.5) and Vincent Jackson (14.5) also average double digits. The post duo joins point guard Carleton Rivers, who scores nine points a contest and averages three assists.
“There are a lot of guys that concern me, and I think that’s what makes Cahokia so good is that there’s not really a whole lot of guys that you can help off of or not worry about,” Gamber said.
It’s been a week since the Rams last played and lost at Althoff. Mt. Vernon started the game with a strong 10-0 burst, but faded in the fourth quarter. Althoff scored 25 points in the final quarter to seize the lead and eventually the game. Turnovers and poor shooting aided Althoff’s comeback.
“As bad as a loss as it was in the second half, I do think that it’s going to help us in the long run,” Gamber said.
The Rams will face an aggressive full court pressure defense from Cahokia. Last season the Rams won at Cahokia but not before suffering through a tumultuous opening quarter. The Rams turned the ball over 10 times and were down 15-4 after the opening quarter.
“Obviously that’s an area where we really struggled with. It killed us against Althoff Friday night,” Gamber said. “(It) hurt us against Centralia the Friday prior to that. If we want any chance to win (Friday) night, we have to take care of the ball a whole lot better than what we’ve been doing.”
One of the key matchups for tonight will be how Mt. Vernon decides to guard Minor. Gamber said several players will face him throughout the evening. If he plays on the perimeter, Jarron Liddell and Braden Fitzjerrells will guard him. If he moves into the post, Trevor Flota will match up with him.
“It depends on how they are using him. It depends on how the game is going,” Gamber said. “It depends on who we can help off of. Last year in both games we really gambled on a couple guys to help off of, and luckily they didn’t have good nights.”
The diminutive Rams also face the difficulty of containing Austin and Jackson, who bring size and bulk to the post area. Austin stands at 6-7 and weighs 205 pounds while Vincent Jackson is 6-6, 215.
The Rams finish their double weekend with a home contest against Waterloo.
Waterloo has a trio of players who average near or more than double digits on the offensive end. Justin Kretchmer leads the team with 10 points a game. Shane Lenhardt averages 9.8, and Jared Lengacher adds nine a game.
Waterloo opened the season with a loss to Edwardsville. Wins for the Bulldogs this season include Breese Mater Dei and Jerseyville.
“Regardless of what happens (tonight), win lose whatever we’re going to have a battle Saturday night,” Gamber said. “We’ve got to be able to take care of every single game like that, especially a home game.”
Tonight’s matchup starts with the junior varsity game at 6:15 p.m.