By Paul Hines
HERRIN — Mt. Vernon's boys basketball team opened the season with an impressive offensive explosion in a 74-62 win Monday over conference rival Marion.
The Rams scored 45 points in the first half.
“We came out and started the game great,” Mt. Vernon coach Scott Gamber said. “We can't count on doing that every night. We hit a ton of perimeter shots, and it just seemed like everything was clicking perfectly.”
Mt. Vernon's Shakari Hawkins led all scorers with 21 points. He was one of four Rams in double figures. Gilwan Nelson chipped in 14 points and added six offensive rebounds off the bench.
“For us to be competitive, Gilwan's got to get on the offensive glass, has got to give us those kind of minutes,” Gamber said.
The Rams never trailed in the game and built a 45-28 edge at halftime. The considerable offense came with the Rams committing just four turnovers in the opening half.
“They scored 45, but when the game was up and down like that I thought our guys did a good job on the defensive end as well,” Gamber said. “Because sometimes when everything is clicking offensively you can get in a track meet. I thought our guys stayed out of that.”
Mt. Vernon took a 24-point lead into the final quarter before Marion slashed into the margin.
“It's really hard to play with the lead like that, especially when we start subbing,” Gamber said.
The Rams lit up the Marion defense early in the game. Mt. Vernon scored 21 points in the opening quarter. Jake Pike finished with 17 points and aided the quick start. He hit all four of his field goal attempts in the opening eight minutes. He struck from beyond the arc twice.
Braden Fitzjerrells took over the scoring in the second quarter. He opened the period with a trio of baskets. His final one gave the Rams a 40-24 advantage.
Mt. Vernon limited Marion's leading returning scorer Brant Hill throughout the game. Hill finished with 15 points but most of his scoring came in the second half.
The Rams used a deeper bench compare to previous seasons in the opener. Dylan Reeves, Blake Jones, Nelson and Luke Wilson all played considerable minutes against the Wildcats.
“I thought across the board, our kids that came in gave us good minutes,” Gamber said.
Edwardsville transfer Moe Jackson led Marion with 19 points. His quick driving hurt the Rams in the first half.
Mt. Vernon is 1-0 and faces Herrin at 5:30 p.m. tonight.
“That's going to be a battle,” Gamber said.