MOUNT VERNON — If the junior varsity contest played first on Saturday night was any indication, the Mount Vernon High School boys basketball team was going to have its hands full. That’s exactly what the Yellow Jackets ran into.
The visiting Delaware Pacers, who won the jayvee contest in double overtime, gave Mount Vernon all it could handle and beat the Jackets at their own game. Delaware shot 54 percent (21-of-39) from the field and got to the free-throw line six more times than did Mount Vernon, and defeated the Jackets, 54-52, at “The Hive.” The win drops Mount Vernon a half game behind Olentangy Orange in the race for the Ohio Capital Conference Capital Division crown.
“This is a great win,” said Delaware (11-7, 5-5 OCC Capital) coach Larry Eberst. “We showed we can compete with Mount Vernon, which is No. 1 in the conference, at Mount Vernon, one of the most hostile environments in the state of Ohio.
“Ever since the ’60s, Mount Vernon has been Delaware’s biggest rival. Now that we are back in the conference together, it is a great memory for our seniors to come in here and leave with a win. That’s big.”
Mount Vernon (12-5, 7-3 OCC Capital), which had shot above 60 percent in its last two games, opened like gangbusters. The Jackets hit their first five shots, but went just 16-of-41 the rest of the way. Mount Vernon also got to the free-throw line just 11 times, converting on seven, and was outrebounded, 32-16.
“Our guys played hard,” said Mount Vernon coach Kurt Kaufman. “We take a lot of pride in that. We didn’t always execute what we wanted to do, especially down the stretch. We shot it a little bit quick. Part of that is because of what they did. They went to the zone, and we didn’t attack it real well. Give them credit; that was a big risk on their part.”
Once again playing without post Joe Scott, Mount Vernon looked strong coming out of the fate. Scott’s replacement in the lineup, sophomore Charlie Phillips, hit the first bucket less than 16 seconds in. Stephen Bien made a couple of nice moves to get to the basket and Ben Severns hit a couple of buckets, including a 3-pointer, to make it 11-4 in the first 2 1/2 minutes. Post Sean Rothermel scored both Delaware baskets.
Rothermel added a pair of free throws to make it a five-point game, but a putback by Russell Doup and a layin by Phillips gave the Jackets control. The Pacers got buckets from Pat Kennedy and Dominic Cassan to close the gap again, 15-11. Phillips hit a jumper and Doup added a pair of free throws to make a 19-11 lead after one, though. Mount Vernon went 10-of-14 from the floor in the quarter.
“We gave them shots, but we were trying to contest them,” said Eberst. “We knew they had some shooters, and our offense was a little stagnant at that time. ... We started getting closer to their shooters, and contested more of their shots. A lot of times teams go 5-for-5 and make it look easy, but then they cool off. It is a combination of things. We made some changes defensively.”
The lead grew to 10 on two occasions early in the second quarter for Mount Vernon, but a 3-pointer by Cassan began a Delaware rally. The Pacers went on a 13-2 run in the final 5:36 of the quarter, and scored the go-ahead bucket with just one second remaining. Kennedy hit a jumper, his third during the run, to put Delaware up, 26-25, at halftime.
“That was big,” said Kaufman of Kennedy’s final jumper. “We wanted the last shot. That’s a momentum shifter right there.”
Mount Vernon shot just 3-of-9 in the quarter while the Pacers went 6-of-9.
“We felt like the ball was rolling in our direction,” Eberst said. “We didn’t lead until right at the end, but we had the momentum. Our concern at halftime was can we maintain that.
“Mount Vernon plays great defense and doesn’t make many mistakes. They pressure you hard.”
Mount Vernon mounted a comeback in the second half. The Jackets took the lead less than two minutes into the third quarter, but Delaware went on a 8-3 spurt over the next four minutes to make it a 38-35 game. A bucket by Ben Hoar and a 3-pointer by Doup closed that gap, however, and put Mount Vernon up two, 40-38, after three.
“We had them in the bonus and were up two; we wanted to get to the foul line, but unfortunately, we didn’t take advantage of that,” said Kaufman.
Delaware made another move early in the fourth quarter. Its defense held the Jackets scoreless for 3:40 as its offense went on a 9-2 spurt. That run gave the Pacers a five-point lead with less than four minutes to go, and they led by the same margin with 28.7 seconds to go.
“They were able to pull us out of the zone we were playing because they were up, but we hung in there and kept fighting,” said Eberst. “We’ve done that all year. We go a break here and there.”
A Severns jumper pulled Mount Vernon within three, 54-51, with 20 seconds left, and Doup stole the next inbounds pass to give his team the ball back. Doup was fouled as he tried to lay a shot up, and hit 1-of-2 at the line to make it a two-point game with 16.8 seconds left. Delaware missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 14.9 seconds remaining, and a Jacket rebound gave them once last chance.
On the inbound pass, the Pacers heavily guarded Severns, who was looking for a three-point shot. He instead drove the lane, hoping to make the bucket and/or get fouled. Neither happened as his layup attempt missed and time expired.
“We wanted to drive it and make them foul us,” said Kaufman. “We got a look. He got to the basket.”
Rothermel posted 19 points and 12 rebounds to lead Delaware. Kennedy had 17 points, two steals and three assists; and Nick Potter added 10 points and five rebounds. Cassan finished with eight points, two assists and four boards.
“Kennedy played the best game he has ever played in his life,” said Eberst. “Big players step up in big games, and he stepped up tonight.”
Doup had a solid all-around game for Mount Vernon. He finished with 14 points, six rebounds, two assists and three steals. Severns and Bien each added 10 points, and Bien had two assists and three blocks. Phillips finished with eight points as well.
“Offensively, we’ve been doing a good job of passing the ball and finding the open shot,” said Kaufman. “We just got out of rhythm. It seemed like the ball stuck in people’s hands; we didn’t get the ball moving like we wanted to. It is something we’ve got to work on. We’ve got to get better at it.”
Mount Vernon and Delaware duked it out in the junior varsity game as well. The game was tied at 36 at the end of regulation, and at 41 after the first overtime. Delaware pulled away in the second overtime, however, and handed the Jackets their first loss of the season. Andre Nixon scored 14 points for Mount Vernon (16-1), which also got 13 points from Chris Ingersol and nine from Kenny Rucker.
The Jackets have three games left in the regular season. They are at Big Walnut on Friday in another OCC battle, and are at home on Tuesday against Utica and on Friday, Feb. 20, against OCC for New Albany.
“Every game is crucial in the league,” Kaufman said. “We are tied now again with (Olentangy) Orange and we go to Big Walnut on Friday. We’ve got business to take care of.”