FORTVILLE — It was only one 3-pointer, but in a slow-it-down, every-shot-counts boys basketball game Friday at Mt. Vernon, it was enough to send Connersville to victory.
The Spartans’ Tyler Billups sank a shot from beyond the arc to give the visitors a 38-31 lead with less than five minutes to go, and they went on to a 47-38 win in what was mostly a tight contest.
“They’re excellent defensively,” Mt. Vernon coach Travis Daughery said of Kerry Brown’s Connersville group. “They really use their offense to control the game and limit the possessions.
“Tonight … that made our possessions matter more than in a game where you’ve got as many as you want. We just had too many empty trips, too many possessions where we just didn’t play to our team’s strengths.”
Due in part to a deliberately slow pace, Connersville (10-7) has the third-best boys basketball defense in the state, statistically speaking, at 40 points per game allowed.
Both squads took their time scoring in the early going. Mt. Vernon (8-6) was up 7-3 to end the first, after the visiting Spartans missed 6-of-7 shot attempts (six of which were 3-pointers).
Heading inside — and to the free-throw line — Connersville found its groove early in the second quarter with a 7-0 run for a 10-7 advantage.
The Spartans went 7-of-8 from the free-throw line in the second quarter. They made three field goals in the first half.
“Just lazy,” Daugherty said of the Marauders’ foul trouble on defense. “Late, and playing behind plays.
“It’s difficult to give points away in a game that you know are going to be hard to come by.”
Miles Wayer answered for the Marauders with six points during a 9-4 blitz that gave Mt. Vernon a 16-14 halftime lead.
Finding its long-range acumen to open the second half that was lacking in the opening quarters, Connersville knocked down 3-of-5 from beyond the arc and took a 31-29 advantage into the fourth quarter.
Billups’ 3-pointer with 4:37 left in the game gave the Spartans the game-sealing 38-31 lead, their largest gap on the Marauders up to that point.
Billups and fellow senior Ty Miller had 10 points each for the Spartans. Grant Smith added nine points and Andrew Stine had eight points.
Wayer notched a game-high 16 points for the Marauders, who have lost three straight. Michael Ertel had eight points.
Mt. Vernon got solid contributions from its bench during a third quarter swing that produced a 29-28 lead, which proved to be its last of the game. Christian Smith, James Stricker and Jimmy Campbell lent their energy; crucial, as foul trouble plagued a few starters.
“That’s what those guys bring,” Daugherty said. “We don’t have that right now as much as we need it. Those guys gave us a lot of good minutes off the bench. And Matt (Hays) and Tyler (Franklin) came in in the first half and contributed.”
Ultimately, there wasn’t enough of that “want-to” against a team the Marauders could see again this season. Connersville and Mount Vernon belong to Class 4A Sectional 9, which will be hosted by New Castle.
The Marauders dropped to 1-3 this season against common sectional foes.
“If we can’t develop more toughness, mental and physical, then we’re going to continue to struggle against teams that are willing to fight and to battle,” Daugherty said. “Because, right now, we’re not staying in the fight as long as our opponent.”
Notes: Mt. Vernon (2-2 Hoosier Heritage Conference) will visit Delta (5-10, 0-3 HHC) today. The Eagles were averaging an HHC-low 49.6 points heading into the weekend. … Damari Gatewood hit a 3-pointer with 30 seconds remaining in the JV game to give the Marauders a 35-33 lead, and they held on for a 37-33 win. Gatewood finished with 12 points and teammate Xavier White had 13 points. … The Spartans will host Mooresville (10-2) today. … In 15 seasons at Rushville, South Dearborn and Connersville, Brown’s teams have now posted double-digit wins in 10 of those seasons.