NEW CASTLE — With star guard CJ Coleman suspended for the first five games of the season, Mt. Vernon relied on a 7-man rotation. Of those seven players, five young men — three freshmen and two sophomores — gained meaningful varsity minutes for the first time. For the trio of ninth-graders, they were immediately thrown to the wolves against quality competition. The result was a 1-4 start uncharacteristic of the program’s recent history.
But with Coleman back in fold, MV is looking like a very dangerous 3-5 outfit coming off a split at the Hall of Fame Classic Saturday at New Castle, losing 48-37 to 3A No. 1 Greensburg and topping 4A No. 14 Evansville Harrison 70-53.
“I think it just takes the pressure off everyone. When he was out, everyone was forced to move into a role either they weren’t comfortable with or they weren’t ready for,” Mt. Vernon coach Travis Daugherty said of Coleman’s return. “We went through the summer and fall thinking he was going to be our No. 1. When you take out your No. 1, then you have to move everybody up a spot. It exposed some weaknesses and some limitations in guys.
“In one sense, it’s a relief to have him back because everybody feels more comfortable in their role. At the same time, everyone else had to expand their role. In the long run, I think we could be better because of the experience we had when was out.”
Coleman tallied 35 points and 12 rebounds to garner all-tournament honors Saturday. And while Coleman’s calming presence has accounted for a portion of Mt. Vernon’s recent improvement, some of the credit has to be doled out those youngsters who occasionally struggled without the North Carolina-Greensboro commit. And Exhibit A is freshman forward Erick Shepherd.
The 6-4 rookie walked into New Castle Fieldhouse Saturday averaging a near-double double at 14 points and eight rebounds per game.
He walked out with Saturday having notched 30 points and 13 rebounds in two games opposite size-blessed Greensburg and Evansville Harrison.
“It’s a new challenge. I’m having fun playing against stronger guys,” said Shepherd, who made 10-of-15 shots and went 10-of-12 from the foul line Saturday. “I have to find new ways to score.”
Shepherd’s talent was especially on display in his team’s win over Evansville Harrison in the consolation game. On back-to-back possessions during MV’s 11-0 run over the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth, Shepherd showcased his speed, endurance and skill. He first ran the court and converted a lay-in on a fast break, then functioned as the point guard the next time down the floor on the team’s odd-man rush, acquiring the assist after he dished the ball to Dan Werner.
Growing up, Shepherd’s always been the tall guy, so he’s worked to develop his ball skills. He credits his outdoor running for allowing him to beat other players his size up and down the floor.
“I’ve had coaches help me with my handle,” he said. “My handle is pretty good for a big guy.”
Freshman guard Michael Ertel also showed well Saturday. Against Evansville Harrison, he recorded nine points, three rebounds, three assists while displaying sound court vision and headiness.
When the Warriors went to a trapping halfcourt defense after falling behind early, the Marauders didn’t panic, and part of their continued success was due to Ertel, who knifed through the teeth of the defense for floaters and assists.
At the end of the third quarter, freshman James McCloud nabbed a rebound in traffic before flinging a halfcourt pass to Ertel, who had leaked out ahead of the Warriors. With time running out, Ertel calmly checked the clock and took his time before converting an open lay-up as time expired.
As for the other newcomers, McCloud and sophomore swingman Michael Thompson’s length have been valuable on both ends of the court, while sophomore guard Miles Wayer has hit big shots all year. Wayer’s second-quarter 3 against Greensburg stalled a mini-run by the Pirates.
“Our young guys are so important to our success. We have great older guys who’ve been there, but when you have a team like ours that really relies on youth, you’re going to struggle at times with inconsistency and some bone-headed plays,” Daugherty said. “We still make those (mistakes) at times, but it’s really about learning how hard you have to play and how to compete on every play. Our guys are getting better at that. I’m excited about what this group can become if we can stay in the fight and keep improving.”
Greensburg, McIntosh conquer another challenge
There were a few plays during the Hall of Fame Classic that showed just how special a team Greensburg has become during its stretch of dominance over the past two-plus seasons.
There was Northwestern-bound guard and tournament MVP Bryant McIntosh stomping out a Columbus North run in the championship game late in the fourth-quarter with an and-one.
There was overlooked guard Collin Rigney eschewing a fast-break lay-up to swish a 3-pointer.
There was 6-8 Ryan Welage blocking a shot, picking up the loose ball, dribbling down the court and side-stepping a defender for a layup.
After downing Mt. Vernon 48-37 in the tourney opener Saturday, the Pirates overcame a slow start to beat 4A No. 7 Columbus North 65-59 in the title game. Entering Saturday, Greensburg already owned wins over Batesville — its rival and one of the two teams to beat the Pirates in their last 60 games — and 4A power North Central.
Greensburg got all it could handle vs. Columbus North. And though the Pirates are fortunate to have a handful of elite high school players, it was clear once again that McIntosh is the team’s bell cow.
After having an off-game and scoring just three points against Mt. Vernon, McIntosh exploded for 27 points vs. Columbus North.
It was McIntosh’s 3-point play that put his team up 56-55 at the 4:03 mark of the fourth quarter after the Bull Dogs tied the score at 55. It was McIntosh who broke a 57-all tie by hitting two free throws with 2:24 remaining. And it was McIntosh whose driving hoop put Greensburg up 63-59 to effectively seal the game.
Saturday night’s performance was just another instance of McIntosh rising up in big games. In last season’s 3A state championship vs. Ft. Wayne Concordia, McIntosh poured in 25 points, and his 3-pointer with just under 30 seconds left tied the game. McIntosh’s bucket put the Pirates up 71-69 in overtime as they held on to win 73-70.
Prior to the State Finals, Greensburg needed to get past Mt. Vernon at the 3A Richmond Semistate. The Pirates won 62-37, pulling away in the third quarter behind McIntosh’s 10 points.
It was McIntosh who had the court vision to find Rigney for the aforementioned noteworthy triple in the first half.
“He is a great shooter. It’s his confidence,” McIntosh said of Rigney, who entered Saturday shooting 78 percent from the field (31-of-40), including 76 percent (19-of-25) from 3. If he misses one, he doesn’t care. There’s a little bit of cocky swagger to him, and I love it as a point guard to kick it out to him. You know he’s going to knock that down.”
Coming into Saturday, McIntosh (14.3 points per game) and Rigney (13.5 ppg) were just two of the four Pirates averaging in double figures. Welage (14.5 ppg) and Sean Sellers (18.5 ppg), a Ball State recruit, make Greensburg downright lethal offensively.
“The Rigney kid, he’s their fourth option,” MV coach Travis Daugherty said. “In one sense, you’ve got to tip your cap to them and move on.”
All-tourney squad teeming with talent, scorers
Even the worst high basketball coach in the country could win a lot of games with the all-Hall of Fame Classic team that was announced after the championship game. Joining Coleman, McIntosh and Sellers on the squad were Evansville Harrison’s Ernie Duncan and Columbus North’s Elliott Welmer and Josh Speidel.
In addition to Coleman, McIntosh and Sellers, Duncan (Vermont) and Welmer (Saint Louis) are committed to Division I schools. Speidel, the lone junior in the group, already has scholarship offers from Evansville, Illinois-Chicago and Northern Illinois.
The group also stands to leave its mark on their respective school record books.
Sellers is already the leading scorer in Greensburg history. With 41 points Saturday, Duncan is 69 points shy of Evansville Harrison’s career scoring mark of 1,219, currently held by John Risinger.
Coleman’s road is a little more difficult. He has 1,069 career points after this weekend, but is still 326 short of Tim Miller’s MV record of 1,395. With only 13 guaranteed games left in his career (12 regular season, 1 postseason), Coleman needs to average a little over 25 points (25.1) per game to break Miller’s record.
All comments are moderated before posting.
View our commenting guidelines and FAQ's here.