Time after time Braden Fitzjerrells stepped to the free throw line against Chicago Al Raby and converted.
The Mt. Vernon sophomore was 21 of 23 from the line in the Rams 70-63 third-place victory Saturday at the Effingham-Teutopolis Christmas Classic.
“That's unbelievable,” Mt. Vernon coach Scott Gamber said. “To shoot that many but to make that many, that's why it never got closer than seven, eight points there in the fourth quarter.”
Ftizjerrells led all scorers with 28 points. Shakari Hawkins and Jake Pike added 16 points each. The scorers all helped Mt. Vernon work a bit of a cushion in the opening quarter. Fitzjerrells ended the opening period with a three-point play to give Mt. Vernon a 19-11 edge.
Al Raby sliced into the deficit early in the second quarter, and took a 23-19 lead midway through the quarter on a bucket from Johnathan McGee. The Raiders closed the half with a slim 28-27 advantage.
Pike, who knocked down a 3-pointer in the opening quarter, returned to his hot shooting ways in the third. He canned a trifecta of treys in the quarter. The long-range shots helped the Rams take a 46-40 lead going in the final period.
“Those two guys (Hawkins and Fitzjerrells) do a really good job of getting around their defender,” Gamber said. “If they'll look for Jake, Jake will make them look pretty good. Because he knocks down some shots. Jake played huge tonight.”
The final quarter was a parade to the free throw line for Mt. Vernon. Fitzjerrells took all but one of the Rams attempts and was 15 of 16 in the final quarter. Mt. Vernon was 28 of 33 as a team in the game. Fitzjerrells' consistency helped the Rams build a double-digit edge at one point. Al Raby did rally during one stretch and knock the margin down to seven but couldn't get closer.
“They scored five points in about five seconds, and you can't do that with the lead,” Gamber said.
Mt. Vernon is 9-3 this season and hosts Belleville Althoff on Friday night. Mt. Vernon finished the tournament with a 2-1 record. Fitzjerrells and Hawkins were named to the all-tournament team. Teutopolis knocked off Effingham in the championship game.