By PAUL HINES
MT. VERNON —
The Rams host Carbondale tonight in a critical conference game for both teams.
“I think (tonight) turns into being a huge game for us,” Mt. Vernon coach Scott Gamber said. “Not that if we lose (tonight) it’s the end of our season and that we can’t come back from it. And that not by winning (tonight) means we’re on a roll or anything like that. I just think that it’s a really big conference game.”
The Terriers (11-5) enter the matchup with a 1-3 South Seven Conference record and are trying to move out of the bottom portion of the league. The Rams (8-7) are 2-2 this season and a win pushes them closer to the top. Althoff enters the weekend leading the South Seven with a 3-1 record.
“It’s always early to say that it’s a must win or anything like that,” Gamber said. “It’s been really mixed feelings for me over the last couple weeks because I felt like we played fairly well against Oak Lawn. I felt like we played really well against Alton. I felt like we played well against (Teutopolis). We lost all three of those games.
“I think it’s a huge game for us.”
Mt. Vernon has lost three out of its last four games at the buzzer and hope to rebound at Changnon Gymnasium where the Rams are unbeaten this season. The string of last-second losses started with a pair of defeats at the Centralia Holiday Tournament and continued Saturday when Teutopolis went the length of the court for a layup.
“We’ve been really lucky the previous two years,” Gamber said. “We’ve won a lot of really tight games, and this year we just haven’t been able to get over that hump. It makes us a dangerous team if we can figure it out, but if not the trend’s going to continue.”
Mt. Vernon is unbeaten at home and scored wins against Centralia, Cahokia, Waterloo and Cairo earlier this year.
The Terriers are a guard-dominated squad this season. Allen Billinger, Devontavius Payne and Elijah Bidinger are all key players on the offensive end.
“Their guys can shoot, but we have to make them beat us from the perimeter,” Gamber said. “We cannot allow us to beat them around the rim, which is kind of what we let (Teutopolis) do to us. We can’t let Carbondale get into our interior and beat us.”
Carbondale does bring 6-6 Jordan Kelly off the bench.
“When he comes in off the bench, they have the traditional big, strong post presence,” Gamber said.
Tonight’s game starts with the junior varsity matchup at 6:15 p.m.