NEW CASTLE — In the days prior the start of the Class 4A Sectional 9 tournament, Mt. Vernon head basketball coach Travis Daugherty was torn between loving and loathing the first-round bye.
The 12-year coaching veteran has seen it help and hurt a program in pursuit of a title throughout the course of his 158-career victories.
On Friday night, it was evident which one was at play for his Mt. Vernon Marauders after a seven-day layoff between games.
Unable to establish a rhythm early, the Marauders (18-5) held a slim 9-8 lead against host New Castle (17-7) in the first quarter, only to watch it slip away for good.
New Castle built an 18-12 lead after eight minutes behind a 10-3 run and kept pouring it on to win 85-76 in the Sectional 9 semifinals.
They will now move on to face Connersville in the sectional championship.
The win gave the Trojans two straight against Mt. Vernon, which tied New Castle for the Hoosier Heritage Conference title this regular season. New Castle defeated Mt. Vernon 55-54 on the same floor Jan. 2.
This time, they didn’t use a last-second shot to win. They used all 32 minutes.
“We kept fighting, but they’re just too good of a team,” Daugherty said. “You have to play perfectly and get every break and every bounce and probably need some addition help from them by missing out on a couple of plays. It was just too big of a hill to climb.”
New Castle was led by senior guard Andrew Garrett’s game-high 27 points. Mason Gillis followed with 16 points and Titen Bennett added 14.
The Trojans’ six-point lead after the first quarter swelled to 11 points in the second and to 12 points early in the third.
An 8-0 run in the second half pushed the margin to a game-best 19 points at 45-26 with around six minutes left in the third quarter.
“We were unsettled early,” Daugherty said. “When you get behind, you press on plays you usually don’t have to. They controlled the game from the beginning on.”
In an attempt to win their first Class 4A postseason game since moving up a class after 2012-13, the Marauders never gave up.
Mt. Vernon orchestrated a 14-6 run late in the third to chip the deficit down to 10 points and in the fourth quarter they trailed 59-51.
All five starters finished in double figures with James McCloud leading the way with 17 points. In their previous meeting, Wayer scored a team-high 16 points and he had 14 in the rematch.
Erick Shepherd had 16 points and 12 rebounds for the Marauders. Michael Ertel finished with five assists and 15 points while Michael Thompson chipped in 14 with four assists and eight rebounds.
The Achilles heel, however, surfaced beyond the arc where Mt. Vernon shot 6 of 21. They averaged 42 percent from 3-point range this season and were shooting 50 percent from the field.
Against New Castle they were 36 percent from the floor. The Trojans shot a blistering 60 percent in the game.
“We needed every one of our plays to work. It wasn’t the late plays that cost us. It was those first-half plays we didn’t make,” Daugherty said.
The Marauders pulled within six points after Ertel converted an and-1 with less than a minute left on the clock, but both teams shot a combined 44 free throws in the fourth quarter.
With 35 second half fouls, the Trojans converted 21 free throws to keep Mt. Vernon at bay.
“I love these guys,” Daugherty said. “Those guys have been really important to the growth of our program the last couple of years. Our future success will still be attributed to those seniors. They raised the bar of expectation.”