INDIANAPOLIS — Ahead by double digits over rival Hamilton Heights in the second quarter during the Colossal Coliseum Challenge on Saturday night, the Mt. Vernon Marauders weren’t just in control of the score.
They were masters of their own game.
Despite a late charge by the Class 3A Huskies before halftime and again early in the second half, the 4A Marauders never let their grip slip even when the margin dipped to seven, eight and six points.
Instead, they stuck to their three unwritten principles: share, talk and attack.
Story continues below gallery
Their game plan led to an 18-point lead, an eventual 69-54 victory in Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis and a 2-0 start to the season — the team’s first since 2012-13.
“This is big for us. They beat us pretty good the past couple of years, so to just get a win, especially against them, is a nice boost,” Mt. Vernon junior Michael Ertel said after the team’s latest win. “It’s my first time being 2-0 as a high schooler, but it’s only two games. We have a lot of work to do at the same time.”
Through the season’s first week, the Marauders’ time cards read consecutive double-digit victories, including a 71-47 thrashing of Whiteland on the road last Tuesday.
Ertel shot 8 of 11 from the field, including 5-for-7 from 3-point range, to score a team-high 23 points in the season opener.
The more telling stat, though, was the 17 assists as a team, with Ertel quarterbacking the offense with seven and senior forward Michael Thompson contributing four.
The trend continued at the Indiana State Fairgrounds against Hamilton Heights (1-1), a team that had tamed the Marauders the past two seasons.
Trading buckets through the first few minutes, an Ertel pass to 6-foot-4 junior forward Erick Shepherd in the post for a quick hook shot put the Marauders in motion.
From there, Ertel spread around six assists, and the Marauders dished out 16 total, countering the Huskies’ full- and half-court pressure with keen vision and awareness.
“We have the capability to do that. We have enough skilled guys, so we’re always trying to find that line between being aggressive and looking to attack but also moving the ball and sharing it with one another,” Mt. Vernon head coach Travis Daugherty said. “When we do that, and find that balance, we’re a really good offensive team. When we don’t, then we’re not nearly as good.”
Through two games, they’ve been all Jekyll minus the Hyde. After recording 17 turnovers against Whiteland, the number plummeted to five versus Hamilton Heights.
In both games, the team’s motivation to find the open man and the high-percentage shot has the Marauders singeing the net at 59 percent from the field.
As a group, the players are collectively averaging 17.5 assists per game — regardless of traps and presses.
“That’s one of the big challenges against Hamilton Heights; they really pressure in passing lanes. One of the things we try to emphasize is reversing the ball from side to side, and they really make that difficult,” Daugherty said. “Last year when we played them, we didn’t do a good job in that area, so it was good to see that early, and by doing that it opened up other opportunities.”
Their patience and team-first philosophy generated a 12-4 run and a 12-point lead in the second quarter, followed by an 8-2 run early in the fourth that nearly pushed the margin to 20 points.
“We did a good job of moving the ball and attacking when it was there. None of us have really forced anything,” Ertel said. “We’ve just come out and played unselfish.”
The proof is in the results. While Ertel racked up a season-best 26 points on 7 of 12 shooting, including 4 of 6 from deep, Shepherd broke double figures for a second straight game. The big man finished with 19 points after putting up 13 against Whiteland.
Thompson had 19 points in the season-opener, but against Hamilton Heights he focused on the glass, hauling in a team-high six rebounds.
James McCloud rotated into the big-three equation at the Coliseum, scoring 13 points, grabbing three rebounds, delivering three assists and swatting three shot attempts.
“James has been great the past couple of games. He’s really embraced his role and has attacked it,” Ertel remarked on the 6-2 junior forward.
“I really love the way he’s playing. He’s been great for the team. He’s worked really hard in the offseason, and it’s showing.”
Daugherty had a similar assessment of Ertel, who spent the summer playing high-level AAU basketball with Indiana Elite along with Shepherd.
“He’s continuing to develop as a player and as a leader for us,” Daugherty said.
“It’s nice to have your point guard with the skill level he has because he’s able to make so many different plays not only for himself but moving it around and sharing it with his teammates.
“He really is the tone setter for us. When he plays well, we have a chance to be really good.”
How good will be determined by staying the course, said Daugherty, whose team was 13-9 last year with nine losses at 10 points or less.
“It’s nice to win, but for us, we’re just trying to focus on the process of getting better every game,” Daugherty said. “It’s fun to be able to play and see what’s going well and what’s not, so we can get back to practice and work.
“The one thing I love about this team is how well we’ve practiced. That’s been our mindset, be ready to play, practice and problem solve so we can move on and get better.”
Mt. Vernon 69, Hamilton Heights 54
MT. VERNON – Wayer 1 0-0 3, Ertel 7 8-8 26, Hays 0 0-0 0, McCloud 5 3-4 13, Thompson 1 4-6 6, Gatewood 1 0-0 2, Shepherd 8 2-3 19, Hadley 0 0-0 0. Totals 23 17-21 69.
HAMILTON HEIGHTS – Wahl 0 0-0 0, House 0 0-0 0, Williams 0 2-2 2, Lutz 7 7-7 21, Trachtman 2 3-3 9, Wiltermood 0 0-0 0, Sauerteig 1 0-0 3, Crist 3 8-10 14, Freeland 0 0-0 0, Weatherford 1 3-4 5. Totals 14 23-26 54.
3-pointers: Mt. Vernon 6 (Wayer 1, Ertel 4, Shepherd 1), Hamilton Heights 3 (Trachtman 2, Sauerteig 1). Rebounds: Mt. Vernon 17 (Thompson 6, Ertel 5, McCloud 3, Wayer 1, Gatewood 1, Hadley 1), Hamilton Heights 23 (Crist 7, Wiltermood 4, Lutz 4, Wahl 3, Trachtman 3, Williams 1, Freeland 1). Assists: Mt. Vernon 16 (Ertel 6, Wayer 3, McCloud 3, Thompson 3, Shepherd 1), Hamilton Heights 7 (Crist 4, Lutz 2, Sauerteig 1). Turnovers: Mt. Vernon 5, Hamilton Heights 14. Fouls: Mt. Vernon 17, Hamilton Heights 15.