NEW PALESTINE — It is not always how you start a game that is most important. Sometimes, it is how you finish. Mt. Vernon learned that the hard way in a four-point, come-from-behind road win over New Palestine Friday.
Trailing by nine points entering the fourth quarter, the Marauders used a 1-3-1 half court trap to slow the Dragons’ offense, which ended the game with 10 makes from behind the arc. Turning its defense into offense, Mt. Vernon outscored New Palestine 28-15 in the fourth quarter to secure a 68-64 win.
Dragons freshman guard Maximus Gizzi, with his team trailing 66-63 with approximately one second left in the game, attempted to get fouled while in a shooting motion (at midcourt) as a Marauders’ player moved in for an intentional foul. The foul was called on the floor, however, only allowing Gizzi to come away with one point at the line as he missed the second free throw on purpose.
With a two-point lead, Mt. Vernon senior guard Michael Ertel would drill two shots at the charity stripe with almost no time left on the clock to seal the win.
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“(The 1-3-1) takes a lot out of you, so it’s hard to play it for long,” Mt. Vernon head coach Travis Daugherty said. “Our starters are wired to do that at a high level, just not for very long. We were just trying to wait it out, but we thought we needed to go to something (different) to change to momentum.
“The fourth quarter for us was just heart and the guys just fighting the ugliness to find a way to win. Sometimes, the tough games at the end of a season can really galvanize a group.”
Ertel would finish with 16 points in the win as the Marauders improve to 12-8 and 5-1 in the Hoosier Heritage Conference.
Mt. Vernon senior forward Erick Shepherd finished with 17 points and is now just five away from 1,000 for his career. His classmate, senior forward James McCloud, scored a team-high 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the victory.
New Palestine (5-15, 1-6 HHC) was led in scoring by sophomore guard Dylan Romine. He finished with a career-high 21 points (four threes), including 14 in the first half. Sophomore guard Matthew True added 16 points, while Gizzi finished with 12.
“We shot the ball extremely well the first half,” New Palestine head coach Trent Whitaker said. “Defensively, though, we were flying around and making things happen. It was chaos out there.
“(Mt. Vernon) is a senior basketball team that did not get rattled.”
The Marauders finished the game 22 of 53 (41 percent) from the field, while New Palestine shot 19-for-38 (50 percent). The Dragons were just 1 of 8 in the fourth quarter.
Romine knocked down two threes in the first frame as New Palestine held a 14-11 lead. His hot shooting continued in the second quarter as the sophomore drained two more shots from deep and added a layup to help the Dragons secure a 34-28 lead at halftime.
McCloud led Mt. Vernon, which struggled to find its legs early, with 11 points at the break. Shepherd added eight points and three rebounds.
“We missed a ton of shots that we’ve made pretty consistently,” Daugherty said. “I was disappointed with our defensive pressure early in the game. We played hard but not very smart.
“New Palestine made every single play. They made the open shot and once they got confident, they made some difficult ones.”
Romine’s second three of the game built an 8-0 lead for the home team and quickly forced the Marauders to call a timeout. His first basket inside the arc late in the second quarter gave New Palestine its largest lead of the first half, 31-22, with 1:45 to play.
True added eight points through two quarter for the Dragons, who finished the first half 13 of 21 from the field. Mt. Vernon was 11-for-29 from the field in the opening half.
The Marauders will play again on Tuesday at home against Westfield (6-13), while New Palestine travels to Whiteland (12-6) tonight.