By Paul Hines
The Rams basketball team shook off a slow start and hammered the Herrin Tigers 66-31 Tuesday night at the Pyramid Plus Tournament.
“The start of the game was pretty sloppy on our end,” Mt. Vernon coach Scott Gamber said. “(I was) very, very worried about that happening tonight. Our kids played so well last night, and they got off to such a great start last night. I think we came out tonight thinking that was just magically going to happen again.”
Mt. Vernon struggled throughout the opening quarter against the Tigers. Herrin held a 6-5 edge with two minutes left in the quarter before Mt. Vernon ended it with an offensive push.
Braden Fitzjerrells knocked down a shot, and Doug Gardner converted from the free throw line with two tenths of a second left. The late offense gave Mt. Vernon a 10-6 advantage. The Rams shot just three of 11 in the first quarter from the field.
The Rams were able to push their lead to double digits in the second quarter behind the scoring of Shakari Hawkins and Jake Pike.
Herrin frustrated Hawkins early in the game, but the senior turned up the offense in the second quarter. After a miss to open the period, he hit five straight shots.
“He missed some shots that he's used to making and struggled a little bit on the defensive end,” Gamber said. “I think he kind of got down on himself, and I just think he kind of regrouped and got back in it.”
Hawkins finish the game with 17 points. He was one of three Rams in double figures. Jake Pike added 17, and Fitzjerrells finished with 15.
Pike hit a pair of 3-pointers in the second period. His second of the quarter pushed Mt. Vernon's lead to 23-11.
Hawkins' surge came close to halftime. Several buckets happened on layups around the rim, and the Rams took a 36-19 edge into halftime.
“I felt like we got into a good grove at the end of the first half, then halftime occurred, and I think we came out in the third quarter a little sluggish,” Gamber said.
Herrin whittled the Rams lead down to 13, but Mt. Vernon responded. Pike ended the third quarter scoring with a long-range shot to make the score 49-28. The shot capped an 8-1 Rams run.
“Jake Pike has played tremendous from the perimeter,” Gamber said. “He has hit a lot of big, big shots.”
The Rams completely dominated the final quarter, outscoring the Tigers 17-3 in the last eight minutes.
The Rams opened the season with a 74-point outburst against Marion before putting up the 66 points against Herrin.
“We really worked this summer on playing that little faster pace, which is not what we're used to,” Gamber said.
Mt. Vernon is 2-0 this season and faces Salem at 7 p.m. tonight.