FISHERS — Every time Michael Ertel turned around, a new face greeted him.
At least, that’s how it seemed for the senior point guard and the Mt. Vernon Marauders on Saturday night as they attempted to trump No. 11 Hamilton Southeastern’s unyielding depth.
Tall, athletic, 10-plus deep, and at home, the Class 4A Royals (13-3) challenged the 4A Marauders’ limits by attrition before ultimately winning the possession battle late to slip past Mt. Vernon 74-67.
“That was the first team that could do that against us,” Mt. Vernon senior forward James McCloud remarked on the Royals’ relentless rotation. “We really had to just keep working hard. We were getting tired towards the end, but we just had to stay in there and fight.”
The Marauders (7-5) nearly handed the Royals their second loss in two nights, tying the game at 51-all entering the fourth quarter after trailing throughout.
Hamilton Southeastern was stunned 73-72 in overtime Friday night on a buzzer-beater by Hoosier Crossroads Conference foe Zionsville, but they converted 29 of 36 free-throw attempts to wear down the Marauders.
“When they get the lead and spread you out, especially with our foul trouble late, it puts you in a tough spot,” Mt. Vernon head coach Travis Daugherty said. “You have to rely on them to miss some free throws and make some mistakes, but they’re too good of a team to do that.”
They also were fresh from start to finish, which was by design.
The Royals’ starters played an average of 20 minutes while the Marauders’ senior trio of Ertel, McCloud and Erick Shepherd all nearly surpassed 30 minutes of court time each.
Ertel, a Louisiana-Monroe recruit, finished with 18 points on 6 of 15 shooting and seven assists while racking up 31-plus minutes of floor time. McCloud, a Taylor signee, had 18 points on 8 of 10 shooting with seven rebounds and three steals.
Shepherd contributed nine points and six rebounds, while Damari Gatewood had 14 points on 6 of 10 shooting before fouling out. Logan Smith and McCloud also exited early with 24 fouls whistled against the Marauders.
Hamilton Southeastern 6-foot-7 senior Zach Gunn was the primary beneficiary of the calls, scoring a game-high 19 points with 11 off of 15 free-throw attempts.
The forward, who is averaging 21.4 points per game, led the Royals with eight rebounds. Sophomore guard Noah Smith had 16 points and senior guard Jack Davidson was 3-for-3 from the field and 6 of 6 from the charity stripe for 13 points.
“We got in really big foul trouble and they were shooting a lot of free throws,” said Ertel, who played with Gunn this past summer as an Indiana Junior All-Star. “We had some bad turnovers late, but in the end of the day, I thought we played hard.”
Mt. Vernon outlasted the Royals 59-51 a year ago, but this time around, the Marauders fell behind quickly 12-4 in the first quarter with six costly turnovers in the first quarter.
An Ertel 3-pointer with 1:18 left in the opening frame cut the deficit to 17-12, and a 12-point quarter from McCloud pulled the Marauders within striking distance prior to halftime.
“I was pretty upset because I had two fouls called on me early, so I just tried to keep my head up and go back in and try to make an impact on the game,” McCloud said. “I didn’t try to be overly aggressive, I just let the game come to me. Positive results came from that.”
McCloud, who was held scoreless in the first quarter, buried four consecutive shots and a pair of free throws in the second before he missed his first bucket with 2:10 left in the half.
Gatewood followed McCloud’s outburst with a 3-pointer and a steal in the waning seconds, which he dished up the court to Ertel, who converted a layup to narrow the gap 34-31.
Gatewood gave the Marauders their first lead of the game in the third quarter with a layup in transition, 35-34, and McCloud capped a 6-0 run with a mid-range jumper at the 5:41 mark before the Royals rallied back.
The teams traded leads twice in the third quarter and stood deadlocked four times. A Cade Gentry 3-pointer for Mt. Vernon matched Conner Rotterman’s trey for the game’s final tie at 54-all in the opening minute of the fourth.
Down the stretch, the Royals responded, however, and converted 12 free throws while pushing four key Marauders’ defenders into foul trouble.
“We love the depth of our team and we want to keep using that to our advantage,” Hamilton Southeastern head coach Brian Satterfield said. “We wanted to keep someone fresh on Ertel all night long, just from what his ability is, and along with their other guys, making sure we were ready to go.”
Ertel’s second 3-pointer of the night with 2:07 remaining made it a one-possession game at 65-62, but the Marauders wouldn’t get any closer than four points.
“Just a couple of possessions late was the story of the game,” Daugherty said. “There were just two or three short stretches there where we made consecutive plays to close the gap. We just weren’t able to string enough together to get ahead.”
The loss snapped Mt. Vernon’s winning streak at five games with a home game against potential Sectional 9 foe Connersville on Friday and a crucial Hoosier Heritage Conference matchup at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday.