GREENFIELD — There was no way the Mt. Vernon Marauders were going to let another one slip away. Not this time.
With less than a minute left on the clock Friday night, up 41-40, and facing a must-win scenario as rival Greenfield-Central brought the ball up the court, the Marauders’ hopes of contending for the Hoosier Heritage Conference title hung in the balance.
Erick Shepherd tilted the scales with one swat.
Blocking a Chandler Bean layup attempt with 38 seconds remaining followed by another block from Mt. Vernon’s Michael Thompson two possessions later, the Marauders held their ground to beat the host Cougars 47-40 on Hoops for Riley night.
“This was big, especially after that hard, road loss to New Castle (last Saturday),” Mt. Vernon senior Miles Wayer said. “In order to still compete in the conference, this was a must win for us.”
Last week, the Marauders (9-2, 3-1 HHC) dropped their first conference game of the season versus New Castle, 55-54, on a jumper at the buzzer.
Against the Cougars (8-3, 2-1 HHC), they provided the heartbreak in front of an energetic crowd with key contributions all around to fend off a late charge in the second half.
The Marauders led most of the game as the Cougars struggled early, trailing 8-3 as they went 0-for-7 from the field in the first quarter and were scoreless for five-plus minutes.
But the Cougars turned it on in the second half, tying the game four times overall and thrice in the second half.
Tate Hall deadlocked the score 25-all with an and-one continuation midway through the third quarter and knotted it up 33-all early in the fourth with a 3-point dagger.
That’s when Shepherd focused his frustration.
Unable to find his shot against a strong Greenfield-Central defense and drawing a lot of contact inside the paint, the 6-foot-6 junior hit his stride where he could.
“I can’t get hung up on plays. We’ve been talking about it for weeks, to move on,” Shepherd said. “When I’m doing one thing well, I just need to move on and do something else. I have to find other ways to contribute to the team.”
A put-back by Shepherd with 5:41 left in the game gave Mt. Vernon a 35-33 lead, which Thompson backed up with a jumper. Wayer capped Mt. Vernon’s late 6-0 run with a smooth slash to the rim for a layup off a Abraham Hadley dump pass to put the Marauders up 39-33.
“They’re a great defensive team. To wear them down offensively, we had to wear them down on defense, so that’s what we really tried to emphasize, moving the ball from side to side and getting the best looks we could,” Wayer said.
Scoring a team-high 15 points, Wayer made the Cougars work throughout, scoring eight points in the first half and burying 3 of 4 jumpers from beyond the arc.
Thompson finished with six points while filling the stat sheet with five assists, six rebounds and two blocked shots. Michael Ertel, the team’s leading scorer at 19.1 points per game, had 11 and Shepherd posted seven points with six rebounds after just having two points in the first half.
“In the second half, our talk increased. We were able to get in better position for help-side defense, which was huge,” Wayer said. “If you look back a year or two ago, I don’t think we would have been able to finish. Right now, with our maturity and experience, it was a game we definitely should have won.”
Despite a team-high 15 points from Hall and two key buckets from Drey Jameson late in the fourth quarter to cut the Marauders’ lead to one point twice, Mt. Vernon stood its ground.
“Bottom line, on the road against a good team, you have to make the plays to win, and I think on both ends, we stayed ready and maintained the right mindset,” Mt. Vernon head coach Travis Daugherty said. “That led to a big win for us.”
The victory avenged last year’s defeat to Greenfield-Central, 58-52, and gave the Marauders a 24-20 lead in the series in the past 30 years. The loss snapped the Cougars three-game winning streak.
“We had the ball and had a chance, but we just didn’t execute. That’s something for us to learn from and grow from,” Greenfield-Central head coach Michael Lewis said. “We’re right at the rim. We get the ball at the rim … I should have done a better job of drawing something up.”