By Paul Hines
Mt. Vernon and Mascoutah poured in the points Tuesday night.
In the end, the Rams seized a 72-67 victory with several critical late free throws.
“What I told our guys was don't be satisfied because we have to do a lot of things better but be very excited,” Mt. Vernon coach Scott Gamber said. “Don't feel down. Anytime you go on the road and get a win, it's a great win. It doesn't matter how you play if you get it done on the road, you've done something.”
Several Mt. Vernon turnovers late allow Mascoutah a chance to claim the lead in the final minute. The Rams led 69-65 before a Jake Pike turnover led to a layup from MZ Duprey with 52.7 left made the score 69-67. It was the final turnover in a series of three straight for the Rams.
Mt. Vernon tried to kill the clock, and Gilwan Nelson drew a foul. He split his free throws to push the lead to 70-67 with 33.3 seconds left.
Mascoutah pushed the ball up the court, and Tim Parks fired up a 3-pointer that missed. Shakari Hawkins snagged the rebound and was fouled. Hawkins nailed both free throws to seal the victory.
“We turned it over really bad there at the end, but Gilwan made a good front end of a one-and-one, and Shakari made two big free throws,” Gamber said.
Jake Pike led Mt. Vernon with 24 points. Braden Fitzjerrells added 15. Parks finished with 25 points for the Indians.
The game was an offensive showcase in the opening half as both teams scored at will. Neither team could establish a big advantage, but the Rams managed an opening at the end of the half. With the game knotted at 36, Jake Pike finished the half with four straight free throws to give Mt. Vernon a 40-36 edge.
The Rams were hampered by foul trouble in the opening half and turned to Dylan Reeves, Blake Jones and Luke Wilson off the bench for crucial minutes.
“For us to be up four at the half give those guys a lot of credit,” Gamber said.
Mt. Vernon used a strong third quarter to open up a larger lead. Fitzjerrells gave the Rams a double digit lead at 50-40 with a 3-pointer midway through the third. He gave the Rams their largest lead about a minute later when he hit a shot to make the score 54-40.
Mascoutah climbed back in the game in the final quarter. Down 65-57 with 4:30 left, the Indians chipped away at the deficit. Mascoutah whittled the lead down to four, and then closed the gap to two with Duprey's steal and score.
Mt. Vernon is 6-0 overall this season, and the Indians fell to 1-5. The Rams travel to Cahokia on Friday night.