WHITELAND — Whiteland got the shot it wanted, but not the result.
Senior guard Riley Higdon’s mid-range jumper from the right baseline as time expired was off the mark Tuesday night as Mt. Vernon escaped with a 69-68 victory.
It was the boys basketball season-opener for both teams that packed a postseason level of drama and intensity.
“I think both teams played hard enough to deserve to win. We just happened to get a lucky bounce there,” Marauders coach Travis Daugherty said after watching four of his five starters finish with double-figure point totals.
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“It was two teams who are different than they were last year, and in many ways trying to figure out an identity.”
Junior Logan Smith led Mt. Vernon with 15 points, while Cade Gentry and Damari Gatewood each added 13. Whiteland junior forward Brennan Neal led all scorers with 21 points, followed by Higdon and junior center Carter Crowe with 17 apiece.
After rallying to take the lead after trailing by as many as nine points, Whiteland surged to a five-point advantage at 62-57 on Noah Hale’s tip with 3:23 left in the fourth stanza.
But the Marauders rallied with a 9-0 run that had them in control until Higdon’s triple at 48.6 seconds.
Free throws put Daugherty’s squad in front 69-65 with 28.6 seconds showing, but Higdon’s old-fashioned three-point sequence again made it a one-point lead.
Mt. Vernon turned the ball over on the ensuing possession with 13 ticks left. Whiteland worked the clock down to 3 seconds to draw up the final play.
The loss was the Warriors’ seventh straight at home to the Marauders. Whiteland’s last home win in the rivalry was a 52-49 decision during the 2005-06 regular season.
“For the first game I think we learned a lot about our team,” Whiteland coach Matt Wadsworth said. “We were struggling to score early, but our team did a better job of focusing on attacking the basket with the drive instead of holding the ball in the second half.
“We showed that as a team we can make adjustments. Our press in the second half gave them trouble. The big takeaway is we still have to work on the little things. Taking care of the basketball, making free throws and boxing out, rebounding.”
Whiteland struggled from the floor in the first half, making only 5 of 22 shot attempts. Only one conversion came in the second period, but the Warriors stayed in it by making 8 of 10 free throws inside the final 3:36.
Wadsworth’s squad held an 11-9 advantage late in the first period after senior guard Elijah Weatherspoon drained a triple from in front of the Marauders’ bench.
Mt. Vernon guard Jake Morris countered with his own triple, which started what amounted to a 15-4 run by the visitors. Senior point guard Tyler Bostic produced six of those points on two steals and a jumper.
Gatewood’s bucket at the 3:13 mark lifted the Marauders to its biggest lead at 24-15.
Mt. Vernon’s next game is at Hamilton Heights on Saturday night, 7:30 p.m.