MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon High School boys basketball team flexed its muscle against the visiting Utica Redskins on Tuesday night. The Yellow Jackets shot a blistering 63 percent from the field (24-of-38) and outrebounded the Redskins, 28-20, en route to a 65-42 nonconference victory.
Utica (9-10) came out of the gate looking strong. The Redskins jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the first 3 1/2 minutes behind five points by Charlie Branstool. Mount Vernon (14-5) adjusted, however, and closed the quarter on a 12-2 run. A layin by Cuy Sheffield started the run, which included buckets by Charlie Phillips, Joe Scott and Russell Doup, and a free throw by Ben Hoar end it.
“We knew they would play hard, and they played extremely hard tonight,” said Mount Vernon coach Kurt Kaufman of Utica. “They came out and battled. I give them credit. They certainly played hard”
Five more points from Branstool offset a Stephen Bien bucket and closed the lead to two, 16-14, with 4:55 to go in the second quarter. At that point, it looked like the game was going to be competitive, but that quickly changed.
The Jackets ratcheted up their defense, which paid dividends on the offensive end. Buckets by five different players, including 3-pointers by Phillips and Doup, set Mount Vernon off on a 12-0 run and opened up a 14-point lead with less than a minute to go.
“Defensively, we picked it up and we were able to score some off of our defense,” said Kaufman. “That definitely helped out. It helped us create that run.”
Kelsey Harriman hit a 3 to slow the run in the final 30 seconds, but Doup took a pass from Tad Glibert and drilled another 3 before the buzzer. The Jackets held a 31-17 lead at the halftime break.
“Our guys really did a nice job early on of executing our game plan,” said Utica coach Eric Sheck. “We had it where we wanted it, and then they picked it up defensively, and that hurt us. They forced us into about six straight turnovers, and that hurt us. They converted those and all of the sudden it was a 14-point game.
“(Mount Vernon) did a good job in the second quarter, going on the little run, and we weren’t able to withstand their defensive pressure. That really was the difference in the game.”
The momentum that shot gave Mount Vernon seemed to carry over into the third quarter. A layup by Sheffield started the second half and a 14-point quarter for the Jackets. The Redskins struggled to get an open shot, going 0-of-10 from the field in the quarter. The end result was a 25-point Mount Vernon lead, 45-20, going into the final quarter.
“We came out and played pretty good defense again in that quarter,” Kaufman said. “Our guys still have to understand that have to go after guys every quarter of every game. They’ve got to be ready to play every quarter.”
The final period saw a wild finish. Utica changed its strategy — and players — in the fourth quarter, and they helped it close the gap. A 11-4 spurt by the Redskins cut the lead to 18 with 4:56 to play, but free throws helped Mount Vernon answer with an 11-2 run of its own.
“We challenge our kids at halftime,” said Sheck. “We knew it would come down to controlling the ball. ... Give Mount Vernon credit. They came out and picked it up defensively, and that really hurt us. We turned the ball over way too many times.”
At that point, the Redskins went to the full-court press, and caused the Jackets some problems. Utica was unable to convert many of the Jackets’ nine fourth-quarter turnovers into points, however. Mount Vernon held a 27-point advantage with under a minute to play before two late Utica buckets cut it to the final 65-42 score.
“When you are down 20, you kind of go into panic mode,” Sheck said. “We told the kids to go out there and continue to play hard. We were able to force some turnovers and convert them into layups in the fourth quarter, but we have to do that the whole game. I thought Mount Vernon did a nice job of playing a complete game against us.”
The Redskins’ game plan to stop Mount Vernon senior Ben Severns worked, but unfortunately, they couldn’t slow the other players on the team. Severns took just three shots, making two. The remainder of the Jackets was 22-of-35 from the field and 13-of-18 at the charity stripe.
“We knew they had an outstanding shoot in Severns,” Sheck said. “Our goal was to make everyone else beat us. ... Jason Hoar busted his rear end defending Severns. We did a nice job of limiting their big time scoring threat, but they had guys step up.”
Doup and Scott led Mount Vernon with 14 points apiece. Doup went 6-of-8 from the field, and had two steals and two assists. Scott went 5-of-8 from the field and was 4-of-6 at the free-throw line; he added five rebounds, three steals and four assists. Bien had eight points and five rebounds; Ben Hoar had six points and six rebounds; Sheffield had six points and three assists; and Phillips dropped in six points as well.
Utica, playing without leading scorer Justin Dassylva, got 10 points apiece from Branstool and Harriman. Kevin Walton added seven points; and Michael Sandman had three points, five rebounds and two blocks. Branstool’s point all came in the first half, and he finished 4-of-8 from the field.
In reserve action, Mount Vernon improved to 18-1 with a 42-27 victory over Utica. The trio of Chris Ingersol, Ethan Abell and Andre Nixon scored eight points apiece for the Jackets. Kyle Walton scored seven points for Utica, and John Francis added six points.
Both Mount Vernon and Utica have one game remaining in the regular season. Mount Vernon wraps up Ohio Capital Conference Capital Division play on Friday night, hosting New Albany. A win would guarantee the Jackets at least a tie of the OCC Capital title.
“We’ve got to get better,” said Kaufman. “We’ve certainly got things to work on. New Albany is tough. We won on a buzzer-beater at their place. Now, they are coming here and we’ve got to be ready to play.”
Utica returns to Mid-Buckeye Conference action on Friday, traveling to Fredericktown for its season finale.
Both games begin with junior varsity at 6 p.m.