LEWIS CENTER — It all turned around in the blink of an eye.
The Mount Vernon Yellow Jackets, up by five points and 14 seconds from possibly taking sole possession of first place in the Ohio Capital Conference Capital Division, committed their most costly turnover of the evening. The Jackets fell to the Olentangy Orange Pioneers in a heartbreaker on Friday night, 50-49, and fell out of their first-place tie with Orange and Franklin Heights.
Orange’s Taylor Rieger (13 points) stole an inbound pass from guard Ben Severns (8 points), who was inbounding in his own zone. Rieger grabbed the ball in the lane and hit the easy bucket to give the Pioneers (9-3, 6-1 OCC) their first lead since the middle of the third quarter.
The Jackets (8-4, 5-2 OCC), who put on a nice display of ball control and defense throughout, had only 11 turnovers all night.
“I’m proud of our guys. I thought we played a great game,” said Mount Vernon coach Kurt Kaufman. “You take the last minute away and we didn’t execute some things down the stretch, but other than that, our guys played really well. That was one of our best games all year.”
Post Joe Scott (13 points) put the Jackets up, 46-41, with 3 1/2 minutes to go.
Rieger hit a 3-pointer with under two minutes remaining to bring Orange to within two at 46-44. Orange’s top scorer, Zach Joseph (18 points) had four 3s earlier in the game, giving the Pioneers a total of five on the night.
After Reiger’s 3, the Jackets struck back immediately on both ends of the court.
First, Charlie Phillips (10 points) hit a bucket and drew a foul with 1:46 left in the game. That gave the Jackets a solid 49-44 advantage.
“Charlie just keeps getting better for us and, the thing is, he’s still only a sophomore,” said Kaufman. “He played really well tonight.”
Second, Mount Vernon turned up the heat defensively and denied the three-point shot. The Pioneers had to settle for chipping away with 2s.
“We really played well tonight, defensively,” said Kaufman. “We really ran a lot of time off the clock, because [Orange] worked for a shot.”
After a quick bucket, Orange got the ball back and Joseph was looking for a long bomb to tie it. With the clock draining away, he finally charged in and hit a layup with under 20 seconds to go. That made it a 49-48 game.
The Jackets had to inbound in their own zone with 14 seconds to go. That was when it all unraveled.
“Give [Orange] credit,” said Kaufman, “they did a nice job of executing down the stretch. They turned their D up, they forced us to make a mistake and they took advantage of it. They are a good team and that’s what good teams do.”
The Jackets had another chance, getting the ball with 11 seconds left. Jacket guard Cuy Sheffield (10 points) took the ball upcourt and hurried a layup, but was rejected by Joseph, dropping the Jackets out of first.
“It’s a tight league race,” said Kaufman. “As much as we would like to win this game tonight, in terms of helping us for the league, we didn’t lose the league tonight. If we had won the game, we wouldn’t have won the league tonight, so we just have to keep getting better at the things we are doing — get better at ending games and learn from this.”
Mount Vernon is back in action on Tuesday, hosting Delaware at 6 p.m.