INDIANAPOLIS — The mood was somber inside and around the locker room as players exited on Tuesday night. The sobering message Mt. Vernon head coach Travis Daugherty delivered to his team plummeted deep.
The clock is ticking. It’s up to the team to act before it’s too late.
“We didn’t have it for 32 minutes. At this point in the year, it’s disappointing,” Daugherty remarked after his Marauders lost to Class 2A Indianapolis Howe 73-70. “At some point, the learning has to translate into action.”
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Despite three Marauders finishing in double figures, led by senior Michael Ertel’s 20 points, 4A Mt. Vernon came out slow and peaked for eight minutes in the third quarter, before falling behind again late in the fourth.
The loss pulled the Marauders down to 9-8 on the season and handed them their fourth setback in six games.
“The disappointment for me lies in our inability to play the way we can play from the tip. Our third quarter was great, but we have to figure out with this team and this experience to play that way from the start,” Daugherty said. “We have to if we have any chance to beat a good team or advance in the postseason.”
The Marauders trailed from the beginning as Howe (12-7), last year’s 2A state runner-up, buried four 3-pointers to go up 14-11 as Mt. Vernon adjusted to the game’s speed and physicality.
Down 32-27 at halftime, the Marauders figured out the tempo, and pushed the Hornets to take their first lead of the night early in the second half.
A 9-0 run to start the third quarter, capped by an Ertel and-1, gave Mt. Vernon a 36-32 advantage, but Howe never dropped far enough back.
A Damari Gatewood trey put the Marauders up by seven points in the frame as he finished with eight points. A 3-pointer by Ertel pushed the margin to eight points and another bucket from Gatewood supplied Mt. Vernon with its largest lead at nine points in the third.
Seniors James McCloud had 15 points for the Marauders with 13 rebounds and Erick Shepherd posted 17 points — 12 in the first half — with seven rebounds, but Howe responded when needed.
The Hornets had a trio of double-digit scorers. Yet, most of the damage was from the perimeter where Howe went 10 of 22 at 45 percent overall. As a team, the Hornets shot 51 percent.
Though the Marauders surged for 27 points in the third quarter, they converted 34 percent from the field and only had four 3-pointers.
“We were too hesitant and kind of stopped what we were doing and didn’t make plays in the fourth,” Ertel said. “They made more shots in the fourth.”
Back-to-back 3-pointers in the final quarter’s fourth minute swung the momentum as Howe reclaimed the lead 62-60. Gatewood tied the game with a pair of free throws where the Marauders were 24 of 31, but the Hornets posted a 26-point fourth quarter to put the game away.
“We made a couple of bad decisions right there when we had a chance to extend it, and instead they cut into it,” Daugherty said. “It’s a close game from then on out and it comes down to making a tough shot or making a play, and really in the two or three key plays of the game, they did and we didn’t.”
The Marauders return home Saturday and host Lawrence Central at 7:30 p.m. with five games remaining on the regular-season schedule. Four of the last five are at home, including a pair of Hoosier Heritage Conference matchups.
“The biggest question mark for this team right now is to have the urgency,” Daugherty said. “Against the teams in our sectional and the top teams we face, we can’t wait. It’s your responsibility to be ready to go. If we put ourselves in a position like this in those games, it’s going to be really hard for us to win.”