FORTVILLE — The Mt. Vernon Marauders don’t put much weight in the past, but they don’t forget either.
On Friday night with rival Greenfield-Central on their home floor, the Marauders wanted to make a statement. It took about 10 minutes to do it as the Marauders defeated the Cougars 69-42 to tighten up the Hoosier Heritage Conference race.
“This one was very important to us, especially two years ago when we lost to them on our home floor,” Mt. Vernon senior Erick Shepherd said. “We wanted to redeem ourselves and even the score.”
The Marauders (6-4, 3-1 HHC) did more than that, knocking Greenfield-Central (5-6, 2-1 HHC) out of first place in the HHC standings while winning their sixth in seven meetings against the Cougars.
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Going on a 17-0 run in the second quarter, the Marauders led 45-18 by halftime to capture their fourth straight victory.
The Cougars had won two of their last three entering the night, but had no answer for Mt. Vernon’s pressure defense and up-tempo efficiency.
“We really set the tone tonight with our defense. Our effort and intensity on the ball was the best it’s been,” Mt. Vernon head coach Travis Daugherty said. “We felt like we had the advantage athletically in some one-on-one matchups, and we really wanted to try to assert as much pressure as we could.”
Seniors Michael Ertel, James McCloud and Shepherd turned the screw in front of a frenzied crowd as the defense forced 11 first-half turnovers and held the Cougars to 8 of 24 shooting through the opening 16 minutes.
Ertel led the Marauders with 20 points on 7 of 16 shooting, including five 3-pointers. McCloud finished with 18 points, burying 6 of 6 free throws, and Shepherd had 11 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
“The rivalry atmosphere really made us step up and play the way we did,” McCloud said. “I’m proud of the guys and how we handled it.”
Down 7-5 in the first quarter, the Marauders flipped the switch, going on a 14-2 run to build a 19-9 advantage. Up 39-12 with 2:37 left in the first half, the Marauders clamped down on the Cougars, holding them scoreless for nearly five minutes.
“We had across the board a great defensive presence that kind of opened up the game for us in every other area for us in the first half,” Daugherty said. “When you combine that kind of defensive effort with a stretch where you make shots, then you have chance to make a pretty good run.”
The margin hit its peak late in the first half at 28 points after an easy transition layup by McCloud with 1:48 remaining. Cade Gentry drilled the Marauders eighth 3-pointer of the half with seconds left as the team shot 8 of 13.
Logan Smith, who had eight points, scored all of them in the second quarter and added four assists in the game. Ertel grabbed five rebounds and dished out four assists, finding McCloud and Shepherd in the lane and on the perimeter.
After losing their HHC opener at home to Pendleton Heights on Dec. 9, the Marauders have won three straight league games, powering themselves back into the race. They shared the title last season with New Castle, which they defeated 65-63 last week.
“We knew if we lost another one we might be out of a chance for the conference. We know how important every game from here and moving ahead are,” McCloud said. “We have to handle our business in the conference if we want to win it.”
The Cougars carried a one-game advantage over both Delta and Pendleton Heights in the HHC with both teams at 1-0 before falling to Mt. Vernon.
Will O’Conner had a team-high 12 points for Greenfield-Central and Drey Jameson had 10, going 4-for-4 from the foul line.
The Cougars lost to Mt. Vernon last year 58-52, but the Marauders never trailed by less than 20 points after the first quarter, shooting 60 percent in the first half alone.
“For us, it’s been less about who we’re playing and more about us taking the next step forward,” Daugherty said. “This is always a hard-fought game, and despite the score in the first half, that’s just two really competitive teams. I thought we did a good job of letting our play do the talking and moving on.”