By Paul Hines
Mt. Vernon raced past the host Wildcats 57-36 in the opening round of the Salem Invitational Tournament on Thursday night.
The Rams ripped off a 15-1 lead after the opening quarter, and Salem rarely tested Mt. Vernon the rest of the way.
A trio of players provided balanced scoring for the Rams. Jake Pike led Mt. Vernon with 16 points. Shakari Hawkins finished with 14, and Braden Fitzjerrells finished with a dozen.
Salem struggled to contained the athleticism of the Rams in their halfcourt offense in the opening half. The Wildcats tried to slow the tempo with a methodical offense of their own on the other side. Despite the slow pace, Mt. Vernon's defense forced the Wildcats into 10 turnovers in the half. Several turned into scores for the Rams.
Salem turned to Chance McCay in the second quarter. The Wildcats guard was able to help Salem keep the game from becoming a blowout. McCay struck from a variety of areas on the court and scored 10 of Salem's 12 points in the quarter.
Jake Pike emerged on the offensive end for the Rams. The senior nailed a pair of 3-pointers and canned another basket.
Behind McCay, Salem was able to close the gap to 17-9 after a 3-point play. Pike immediately responded with his long-range shots to push the advantage back to a comfortable 23-9.
Mt. Vernon closed the half with a 23-13 edge.
The Rams maintained their double-digit advantage in the second half. Pike finished with four 3-pointers in the game and started the final quarter with a long-range shot. The basket pushed Mt. Vernon's advantage to 46-27. Fitzjerrells moved the margin past 20 when he followed with a score.
The Rams improved to 12-5 this season and face Edwardsville at 8:30 p.m. tonight. The Tigers defeated Lovejoy in their opening round game.