By Paul Hines
MT. VERNON —
Scott Gamber knows the challenge waiting for his Rams basketball team later this week.
Mt. Vernon starts its South Seven Conference schedule with a matchup Friday against Belleville Althoff.
“They're very impressive on film,” Gamber said. “Offensively, the thing that has really stood out about them is their ability to score in a lot of different ways.”
The Crusaders enter the season loaded with talented players and face the Rams after sweeping through the St. Anthony Thanksgiving tournament. Althoff racked up four wins, including a 20-point victory against Effingham in the opener.
“Effingham is as solid and tough as anybody, and they're playing a bunch of young kids,” Gamber said. “And they really had their way with Effingham in the second half from an offensive standpoint. Whatever they wanted, they got. We know how good Effingham traditionally is on defense so for them to be able to do that to them is kind of scary.”
The Althoff roster this season includes 6-3 freshman Jordan Goodwin, who scored 25 points in the Crusaders' championship game win over Mattoon.
Althoff also returns the 6-7 Brendan Gooch, Kevin Renner and Keenan Young.
“The inside outside game with kids being able to the rim whenever they want and how long they are a very, very long athletic team,” Gamber said. “Keeping them from getting to the rim is very important. But then against Effingham they showed that they can really shoot the basketball.”
The athletic guard and wing players are paired with the physical presence that both Eric Mertens and Erik Krause bring to the post. Both Mertens and Krause are 6-5.
One of the keys, Gamber said, is limiting Althoff's offensive explosions. A season ago in Belleville the Rams led going into the fourth quarter before the Crusaders put together a big run and beat Mt. Vernon.
The Rams enter the conference opener after winning five straight at the Herrin Pyramid Plus Tournament. Mt. Vernon recorded double-digits wins over Marion, Herrin, Salem and Soldan. The Rams also beat Collinsville when Braden Fitzjerrells dropped in a 3-pointer as time expired.
“We've got to be playing the top of our game,” Gamber said. “We will have to play better Friday night than we've played all year if we're going to have a chance to win.”
Fitzjerrells, Shakari Hawkins and Jake Pike have paced the Mt. Vernon offense early in the season. The trio accounted for 240 of the team's 366 points during the Herrin tourney. Hawkins paces the group with 23 points a game.
Friday's matchup starts with the junior varsity contest at 6:15 p.m.
“Win or lose, I hope we can learn a lot from this game,” Gamber said. “It's important, but it's still really early in the year.”