INDIANAPOLIS — Standing at mid-court with trophy in hand Saturday afternoon, Michael Ertel hid his frustration the best he could.
Named the “Forum Factor” award winner for Mt. Vernon during the Fourth Annual Tipoff Classic at Southport Fieldhouse, the Marauders’ senior posed for photos next to fellow recipient Jack Nunge of Castle, and then he immediately headed to the locker room.
There was a lot to discuss following Class 4A Mt. Vernon’s 90-70 loss to No. 11 Castle. And the door remained shut for longer than usual.
“Today, I felt like coming off that loss last night (to Pendleton Heights), we were kind of out of sorts,” Mt. Vernon senior Erick Shepherd said once the team broke their meeting. “We just have to toughen up in some spots. Hopefully, we can get it going the rest of the way.”
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Each game so far this season has brought about a new set of questions for the Marauders, who dropped to 2-4 after Saturday’s setback, but just as before they aren’t waiting for the answers to appear on their own.
In back-to-back losses against 4A Whiteland and 3A Hamilton Heights to open the season last month, offensive execution was the initial issue.
In response, the Marauders went to work and corrected the trend to put together a two-game run with wins against 2A Covenant Christian and 4A Decatur Central on Dec. 2 and 3.
During Friday’s loss to Hoosier Heritage Conference rival Pendleton Heights 66-52, their offensive woes reappeared, but they didn’t last long as the team shot nearly 10 points higher against Castle at 43 percent from the field.
The problem, however, was the taller Castle players shot better, at 52 percent overall, and dominated the offensive glass.
Nunge, a 6-foot-11 senior, scored a team-high 23 points with 11 rebounds, while 6-5 senior Payton Mills had 20 points.
Sophomore Alex Hemenway, who stands 6-3, had 19 points and six rebounds, and 6-2 senior Brandon Eades contributed 16 points and five rebounds.
The Marauders were out hustled on the boards 30 to 25.
“There’s no reason we should be giving up 90 points,” said Ertel, who had a game-high 31 points. “We couldn’t really rebound today. They shot it well sure, but we really struggled on the boards. I think some of that was their height, but at the same time we need to go after it.”
In the first half, the Marauders went full throttle, pushing the tempo to keep up with the Knights (3-0), who are averaging 94.7 points per game.
Down 35-20 after the first quarter, Mt. Vernon closed the gap to five points by halftime with penetration drives and finding the open man as Castle struggled from the field on 2 of 11 shooting (18 percent).
Ertel, a Louisiana-Monroe recruit, posted 16 points in the first half and knocked down a perfect 10-for-10 from the free-throw line in the game.
Shepherd had seven points in the second quarter and connected with Ertel and his teammates for a couple key assists in transition.
“We’re better when we’re moving the ball around on offense,” said Shepherd, who poured in 21 points and had seven rebounds. “That level keeps us at a high intensity.”
The insertion of sophomore Cade Gentry into the starting lineup helped the Marauders push the ball more for higher percentage shots early along with clutch play from sophomore reserve Peyton Meadors, who buried a 3-pointer before the break.
The set 3-point play came off an assist from Shepherd to cut the deficit 44-39.
Castle’s length and depth, however, was difficult to contend with in the second half as the Knights outscored the Marauders 46-31. Their lead swelled to 23 points late in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve learned a lot from these losses. I think we’ll eventually get it. We’ve just had a rough start to the season,” Ertel said. “Some guys are trying to find themselves and I’ve been trying to be a more positive leader. I know I didn’t shoot it very well today. I had some bad stretches, so I think I need to be better.”
Collectively, pointing their fingers inward as they walked out of the locker room, Mt. Vernon head coach Travis Daugherty expects his team to challenge itself with a week of preparation ahead before another back-to-back weekend, beginning at HHC foe Shelbyville on Friday.
“What other value is there in it other than learning, growing and trying to improve by moving forward? That’s what we try to emphasize with our guys,” Daugherty said. “It’s tough when you get exposed like we did, but if you have the right mentality, it can help you improve. That’s what we’re trying to make the priority right now.”
Reaching 10 deep in their rotation could remain a constant for the Marauders, said Daugherty, as they look to find consistency in all areas.
“They’re really good, obviously. They have a lot of good players around a great player, and it puts pressure on you defensively to be excellent. We were not excellent too much of the time today,” Daugherty said. “Offense wasn’t our issue today. We have got to get more collective toughness defensively. We have to be able to win rebounds and 50/50 balls. Right now, if we’re going to win, we have to make those plays.”
Castle 90, Mt. Vernon 70
MT. VERNON (2-4) — Ertel 9 10-10 31, Shepherd 7 7-12 21, Gatewood 1 0-0 3, McCloud 2 0-1 4, Gentry 0 0-0 0, Smith 1 0-2 2, Meadors 1 4-4 7, Morris 1 0-0 2, Bostic 0 0-0 0, Fouts 0 0-0 0. Totals 22 21-29 70
CASTLE (3-0) — Hemenway 6 4-5 19, Eades 5 6-9 16, Nunge 10 0-1 23, McLean 2 0-0 4, Wilkinson 3 0-0 8, Baker 0 0-0 0, Messinger 0 0-1 0. Totals 33 16-23 90
Rebounds: MV 25 (Shepherd 8, Ertel 7, McCloud 3, Smith 2, Morris 3), CHS 30 (Nunge 11, Hemenway 6, Eades 5, Mills 5). 3-Pointers: MV 4 (Ertel 2, Gatewood 1, Meadors 1), CHS 8 (Nunge 3, Hemeway 3, Wilkinson 2). Turnovers: MV 12, CHS 7. Fouls: MV 19, CHS 22. Fouled Out: Gatewood (MV), Wilkinson (CHS).