FORTVILLE — If Tuesday’s season opener between Mt. Vernon and Whiteland is any indication, it could be a very interesting 2016-17 boys basketball season for both teams.
It took all 32 minutes of regulation and then a pair of overtimes to declare a winner, and when the dust settled, it was visiting Whiteland emerging with a 75-70 victory against the Marauders.
The win was the first in five tries for Whiteland against Mt. Vernon and came thanks to a balanced scoring attack and timely shooting from the free throw line down the stretch.
The Warriors were 9 of 10 from the free throw line in the two overtime periods, and watched as four players reached double figures.
Both teams had chances to end the game in regulation, most notably Mt. Vernon as Michael Ertel, who finished with 30 points before fouling out in the second overtime period, narrowly missed a jumper.
Later, James McCloud, who finished with 13 points, missed a putback shot that would’ve propelled the Marauders to the win.
In the first overtime, Mt. Vernon raced out to a 56-54 lead after a pair of free throws from Logan Smith and would hold a 57-56 lead with less than two minutes to go.
However, Whiteland senior Michael Valle would put the Warriors on his back, scoring two of his team-high 18 points with 14 seconds left to knot the game at 58-58 and send it to another extra period.
In the second overtime, Whiteland’s balanced scoring attack became too much for Mt. Vernon to handle, as Aaron Gross knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Warriors a 63-60 lead they would not relinquish. Gross scored 8 of his 16 points in the second overtime.
In the first half, Valle and Ertel traded blows for their respective teams. It was Ertel, however, that led the halftime battle with 17 points. Valle scored 12 points, and the Warriors held onto a 35-32 lead.
The opening moments should have been an indicator for how the game would go as both teams traded baskets early before the visiting Warriors settled in for a 16-15 advantage. Brennan Neal chipped in with 12 points in the first half.
Mt. Vernon stormed out of the break between quarters on fire, racing out to a 20-16 advantage, but it would be short lived as Neal would hit a 3-pointer to give Whiteland an advantage.
Following a basket by Erick Shepherd to give the Marauders a 24-22 edge, Whiteland closed out the half on a 10-5 run and went into halftime ahead 35-32.
Both teams came out with sloppy play in the third quarter, as turnovers and hurried play dominated the frame.
A pair of free throws from McCloud gave the Marauders a 42-41 lead, and moments later, a basket and free throw by Ertel provided Mt. Vernon a 44-43 lead with a little more than seven minutes remaining in regulation.
But Whiteland refused to go away quietly as the Warriors got baskets out of both Gross and Riley Higdon en route to a 54-52 advantage with just more than three minutes to go.