GREENFIELD — Defense. Which team will make a key stop at an opportune time?
As capable as Greenfield-Central and Mt. Vernon have been on offense this season, Friday night’s contest, according to both head coaches, will come down to who wants it more on the defensive end.
With each team sporting an 8-2 record and plenty of weapons more than willing to make a play, this Hoosier Heritage Conference showdown has all the makings of an instant county-classic.
Last season, the Cougars took a 30-22 advantage into halftime and prevailed 58-52 on the road. The win gave Mt. Vernon a second loss in conference play, allowing Greenfield-Central to tie the Marauders for second in the HHC behind Pendleton Heights (6-1).
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With much of the same talent returning on both sides, Mt. Vernon head coach Travis Daugherty knows taming the Cougars’ offense leaves little margin for error.
“If a team only has one or two players capable of making plays, you can usually cover up some mistakes without giving up too much,” Daugherty said. “Against a team with a number of guys who can plays, small breakdowns or mental lapses get exposed and usually end in points or fouls. We will have to be very aware and disciplined to the game plan on Friday night in order to have success.
“When we are locked in defensively, we are a very good team. When we struggle defensively, we are not nearly as good.”
Each team boasts three players averaging at least 10 points per game led by Marauders junior guard Michael Ertel, who chips in 19.2 ppg. For Greenfield-Central, senior 6-foot-6 wing Tate Hall scores 14.6 ppg while grabbing a team-high 7.8 rebounds per game.
“Tate Hall is one of the best players in the area and an extremely difficult match-up because of his size and versatility,” Daugherty said. “The other three seniors (Chandler Bean, Kirill Schoellman and Blaker Robertson) all played very well against us last year and all bring a lot to the table, not just offensively, but they have their fingerprints all over the game.”
Schoellman is second on the team in scoring behind Hall at 10.6 ppg, while Robertson is right behind him at 10.5. Beans leads the team in assists at 4.0 per game. Hall, Schoellman, Roberton and the Cougars’ fifth starter, Will O’Connor (6.1 ppg), have all hit at least 13 3-point field goals.
However, Mt. Vernon can put the ball in the basket, too.
Aside from Ertel, 6-foot-6 junior forward Erick Shepherd averages 14 ppg while Senior forward Michael Thompson (10.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and junior forward James McCloud (9.6 ppg) add athleticism and scoring depth.
McCloud, who usually matches up against one of the opposing team’s top players, said he knows Greenfield-Central will present one of the biggest challenges his team has faced in the early part of the season.
“We know Greenfield is a good team and it will be a great atmosphere playing there,” he said. “We will have to buckle down on defense and value every defensive possession. We know how good we are on offense, but we know we need to play great defense to win Friday.”
According to the Sagarin Ratings, the Marauders are a three point favorite on the road, and Greenfield-Central head coach Michael Lewis said what makes Mt. Vernon difficult to prepare for is their overwhelming ability to score from any spot on the court.
“Mt. Vernon is a complete team that is well coached,” Lewis said. “They’ve got a very balanced team that can go inside, spread the floor with their shooters and can get to the rim with their slashers. They are extremely impressive.
“Coach (Travis) Daugherty has done a great job with improvement of their players and how well they play together. Our kids are looking forward to the challenge Friday.”
Another offensive option for Mt. Vernon this season has been senior guard Miles Wayer (7.0 ppg), who had a great shooting performance at the Rushville Tournament over winter break. Senior forward Abraham Hadley has added important frontcourt rebounding while sophomore spark plug Damari Gatewood brings a contagious energy off the bench.
For the Cougars, Bean averages 4.1 ppg as junior guard Drey Jameson (4.8 ppg) adds scoring potential from his sixth-man role.
In last year’s battle, Hall led all scorers with 18 points, while Roberton and Bean added 10 and 11 points, respectively. Wayer and Ertel led the Marauders with 16 points apiece.
A last-second shot against New Castle put a halt to Mt. Vernon’s five-game win streak with the team’s only other loss coming to Decatur Central, 57-48. The Cougars ride a three-game win streak into Friday after storming through the South Ripley Holiday Tournament. Greenfield-Central has losses to Connersville and Indianapolis Broad Ripple this season.
Although in county games, records and playing trends hardly matter.
Sagarin Rating: 79.20 (67th in Class 4A)
Offensive Average: 55.6
Defensive Average: 42.0
Who to Watch: Tate Hall (14.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Blake Robertson (10.5 ppg), Kirill Schoellman (10.6 ppg), Chandler Bean (4.0 ppg, 4.0 apg)
Sagarin Rating: 85.38 (30th in Class 4A)
Offensive Average: 62.1
Defensive Average: 53.1
Who to Watch: Michael Ertel (19.2 ppg), Erick Shepherd (14.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg), Michael Thompson (10.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg), James McCloud (9.6 ppg).