FORTVILLE — Something had to give. Opening the season with a three-game homestand and dropping the first two by a combined 11 points, the Mt. Vernon Marauders were left searching for answers.
They found them collectively Friday night, defeating the visiting Class 2A Covenant Christian Warriors 68-49 behind a pair of decisive second-half runs.
“We just needed to play better. We had not played well the past two games, but our guys have done a great job of persevering and showing some resilience through what I believe was an unexpectedly challenging time,” Mt. Vernon head coach Travis Daugherty said. “None of us saw that struggle coming, but the way we played together tonight was by far our best performance.”
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Senior point guard Michael Ertel put on a show, finishing with a game-high 23 points nearly five assists and a pair of steals. The Louisiana-Monroe commit shot 6 of 9 from beyond the arc and was a perfect 3-for-3 from the free-throw line.
James McCloud, a senior, had 13 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out late in the game, and Erick Shepherd flirted with a double-double, posting eight points and eight rebounds.
The key to victory stemmed from unselfishness, which echoed throughout the team’s blistering 49 percent shooting from the field after converting 35 percent of their shots in the first half.
Willing to make the extra pass and finding the open man, the Class 4A Marauders led 12-2 early in the first quarter and by 14 points in the second half.
The Warriors, however, rallied back in the first quarter with an 11-3 run to cut the lead to two points.
Mt. Vernon never relinquished the lead, though, rolling for an 11-2 run in the second quarter to counter the Warriors, at times, game-changing outside shooting.
Junior Josiah Grant had a team-high 20 points, burying a pair of 3-pointers. Junior Jordan Webb, who led the team last season with 18.0 points per game, contributed 16, finding net on two 3-pointers. Covenant Christian hit six treys, but the Marauders responded when pushed.
“Anytime you have a new team, you have a number of guys who are trying to find their identity, even for our top returning guys,” Daugherty remarked on the insertion of two new varsity starters in the lineup this year. “Their role is different this season from on the court to a leadership standpoint. Those guys have worked hard to keep figuring our what we need to win.”
Against 4A Whiteland in the opener on Nov. 22, the Marauders (1-2) ran out of time, falling 75-70 in double overtime as Ertel fouled out in the final minutes. Mt. Vernon suffered another setback at home on Saturday, losing to 3A Hamilton Heights 57-51.
A 12-2 run in the final four minutes of regulation against Covenant Christian secured what they’ve been seeking.
“Tonight was another step in the right direction and that’s the goal we’re going to keep chasing, positive growth,” Daugherty said. “It’s a just building and developing that trust with one another. I think there is such a burden on our three top dogs, and sometimes those guys have to trust moving it and helping those other guys play well, which makes it easier for them, too.”
The evidence was in the point distribution as five different players scored in the fourth quarter with Ertel on the bench. The reserves combined for 15 points, all in the final eight minutes of the Marauders’ 20-point frame.
Mt. Vernon shot 45 percent from 3-point range, hitting 10 jumpers with new starter Damari Gatewood sinking three and fellow newcomer Logan Smith adding another.
“Tonight was evidence of us learning to play together. Our top guys still scored it and were in the middle of everything, but they also made the game easier for our less experienced guys, too,” Daugherty said.