INDIANAPOLIS — On both ends of the court, Mt. Vernon ran like a well-oiled machine. Delta, on the other hand, started the game like an old car on a frosty morning.
Playing 16 minutes of extra basketball one night before appeared to be nothing more than a tune-up for the Marauders.
In a matchup with a familiar foe Saturday at the “Really Big Basketball Show” at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Mt. Vernon earned a key Hoosier Heritage Conference win with just two games left on its league schedule.
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Senior point guard Michael Ertel led all scorers with 29 points, while senior forwards Erick Shepherd and James McCloud handled business down low. McCloud finished with 11 points and eight rebounds, and Shepherd added seven points and 11 rebounds as the Marauders (8-6, 4-1 HHC) won 64-44.
After a three-point, quadruple overtime loss to potential sectional opponent Connersville on Friday, Mt. Vernon wasted little time proving Saturday’s contest would be decided in regulation.
“Truth is, all of our bodies were exhausted after that four-overtime game against Connersville,” said McCloud, who is headed to Taylor University in the fall. “So our mindset going into the game against Delta was to attack them and beat them early. We knew we would be limited if we were to have a close game against them.
“And we did just that.”
Storming out to a 16-6 lead after one quarter of play, the Marauders amped up their defensive energy in the second quarter, limiting Delta, which entered the game at 2-1 in the conference and 12-4 overall, to just three points. Delta shot 1 of 7 from the field.
Mt. Vernon, led by 14 points from Ertel, was much more consistent and finished 11-for-30 in the first half.
Shepherd had five points and 10 rebounds by the break and was key in helping the Marauders force the Eagles into 10 first-half turnovers. Delta, who was out rebounded 29-23, finished the game with 16 miscues.
“We wanted to pressure Delta into rushing their offense, try to force them to make turnovers or shoot bad shots,” Shepherd said. “This really gives us a chance in the conference and keeps us as one of the top teams so we can win it again.”
As of Saturday, Pendleton Heights sits atop the HHC standings at 4-0, while Mt. Vernon and New Castle (4-1) have just one loss.
Another bright spot for the Marauders against Delta was their defense on Eagles’ leading scorer Tanner Lambert, who is scoring 16.5 points per game. Lambert missed all six shot attempts from the field and finished with three points from the free throw line. Senior Carter Anderson led the Delta offense with 13 points, including 10 in the third quarter.
However, with Mt. Vernon shooting 13 of 19 in the second half, Anderson’s effort was a little too late. The Marauders shot 7 of 10 in the third quarter and 6 of 9 in the fourth to finish 24-for-49 (49 percent) for the game.
Junior Logan Smith added six points in the win, while junior Damari Gatewood and sophomore Jake Morris added four each.
“What makes our offense difficult to defend is just that we have so many weapons,” McCloud said. “We have a lot of talent on the offensive end, and when we share the ball that makes us a very dangerous team.”
Ertel, who scored 15 points in the second half, was also named to the event’s all-academic team at halftime.
The win at the Fieldhouse snapped a two-game losing streak for the Marauders, who return to action Thursday at Frankton. The team’s next conference games is scheduled for Feb. 17 at county rival New Palestine.