NEW ALBANY — Strong free-throw shooting late in the game propelled the Mount Vernon High School boys basketball team to a postseason opening victory over the Thomas Worthington Cardinals on Wednesday night. The Yellow Jackets went 8-of-10 from the line in the fourth quarter to defeat the Cardinals, 57-48, in Division I sectional action at New Albany High School.
“When you look at the fourth quarter, we went 8-of-10 at the foul line and that kind of sealed the deal for us,” said Mount Vernon coach Kurt Kaufman. “We were able to make our foul shots and that was the difference.”
With the win, Mount Vernon advances to a Saturday matchup with Westerville Central, which defeated Pickerington Central, 61-53, on Wednesday night.
“This was a big win because it was our first tournament game,” said Mount Vernon junior Russell Doup. “This is the one you want to overcome to get yourself rolling and get other people that haven’t been in this situation more comfortable. It always helps to get the first win.”
In Wednesday’s game, the Jackets (15-6) got off to a strong start offensively. Ben Severns hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter, and Doup had three buckets of his own to help Mount Vernon build a 15-14 lead after one. Thomas Worthington (8-13) kept pace with 3-pointers by Ty Craig and Nick Girardi.
“We were expecting this kind of fight,” Kaufman said. “They play in a good league, and they beat some really quality teams this year. They started playing well toward the end of the season, and they are well coached. We knew they would be coming for us for sure.”
Mount Vernon tried to shake the Cardinals in the second quarter, but couldn’t as each team matched the other shot for shot. Doup continued to have a hot hand, scoring seven points in the quarter. Cuy Sheffield scored a layup with 1:06 to go, giving the Jackets a five-point advantage, 30-25, but Craig hit another 3 just moments later to make it a two-point game at the break.
“Offensively, I thought we were playing really well,” said Kaufman of the first half. “I thought we reversed the basketball; I thought we were patient, and we were getting it into our posts. We didn’t finish as well as we are capable of, but offensively, I thought we were having a very nice game. Defensively, we had to get out to their shooters. They were shooting the ball very well.”
Coming out of the locker room for the second half, the teams traded buckets in the first five-plus minutes. Mount Vernon looked like it would break loose after back-to-back buckets by Charlie Phillips in the next minute, but the Cardinals responded with seven straight points to go up, 40-38, with 27 seconds to go in the third. Ben Severns took a pass from Doup and drained his fourth 3 of the night with seven seconds left to make it a 41-40 game heading into the fourth quarter.
Sheffield hit 1-of-2 free throws to start the quarter, but a 3-pointer by Thomas Worthington’s Sam Bohon gave his team the lead with 5:07 to play. Then, after trading buckets, Mount Vernon went on a 9-0 spurt over the next 3 1/2 minutes, and its lead grew to eight, 53-45. Joe Scott provided five points and Phillips had four to spur the Jackets.
“It was important for us to respond so they didn’t gain any momentum,” said Doup. “They are a pretty good shooting team from the outside. We were trying to get our defense to push them back, and make it harder for them.”
Bohon drilled another 3 pointer to cut the lead to five with 49 seconds left, but the Cardinals got no closer. Tad Glibert drilled four free throws in the final 33.7 seconds to secure Mount Vernon the 57-48 win.
“The free throws were real important tonight because they were almost like free points,” Doup said.
Doup finished with 15 points, despite hitting just one shot in the second half. Severns had 12 points, and Phillips scored 10 points, all coming in the second half. Scott added seven points on the night.
Craig and Girardi finished with 12 points apiece to pace the Cardinals.
Mount Vernon will now turn its focus to Saturday and the Warhawks (16-5). With just a few days to prepare, the Jackets will have to rely on their tournament experience, which they gained in last season’s district semifinal run.
“Last season was a big lesson because we started playing real good defense in the tournament, and that’s what helped us,” said Doup. “We’ve got to continue to play good defense.”
“I don’t know much about (Westerville Central); we sent a scout out tonight, and we’ll look at what we have to start game planning for Saturday,” said Kaufman. “I know they are a very good team, and they are going to come after us. We’ve got to be ready to go, matching their intensity and exceeding it.”