By PAUL HINES
After a pair of losses to Marion earlier this season, Mt. Vernon turned the tables Saturday night at the Salem Invitational Tournament.
The Rams topped the Wildcats 39-36. Michael Feezer led Mt. Vernon with 12 points.
“Neither team, offensively, played a real solid game,” Mt. Vernon coach Scott Gamber said. “But, yes, the Marion monkey is off our back. (It) was very important for us.”
Mt. Vernon’s first lead after the first half didn’t come until midway through the final quarter when Braden Fitzjerrells hit a bucket off a steal. The score put the Rams up 33-32.
The lead bounced back and forth between the two teams as Marion’s Carsen Cash put the Wildcats up only to see Jake Pike hit a pair of free throws to move Mt. Vernon into a 35-34 advantage with 3:15 left. Jawan Tucker gave the Wildcats one last lead before Pike made the difference with a 3-pointer. Pike took a pass and knocked down his long-range shot with 33 seconds left. The bucket gave Mt. Vernon a 38-36 edge.
“Jake Pike has made three absolutely huge shots (this season), but we don’t talk about the first two,” Gamber said. “He hit the huge shot against Oak Lawn to tie it, the huge three against Alton put us up one. We get beat both those games so you don’t talk about them.”
Marion held the ball, trying to get a final shot, but Malik Stuckey’s jumper missed. The ball bounced out of bounds with Mt. Vernon taking over possession with 4.9 seconds left. Marion fouled several times before sending Trevor Flota to the foul line where he hit one attempt, moving the Rams advantage to 39-36.
With less than a second left on the clock, Marion tried to fling the ball the length of the court for a tying basket, but the ball sailed out of bounds. Mt. Vernon took possession and ran out the clock for the win.
The Rams have struggled in last-second situations recently losing three of four games at the buzzer.
“In all honestly, I never thought once we were going to win that game until the buzzer sounded,” Gamber said. “It’s just this whole year late in the game we’ve had some bad stuff happen. You just kept waiting for something crazy to happen. I’m sure glad they didn’t get a shot off.”
The game was close throughout the opening half before Marion opened up a small lead going into halftime. Feezer put the Rams up 16-15 with two minutes left. Marion answered with a 7-0 run to go ahead 22-16. Qwymann Cantley made the score 22-18 after a pair of free throws with 16 seconds left.
Mt. Vernon is 11-8 this season.