MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon High School boys basketball team knew that the league portion of its schedule would be no walk in the park, and the Yellow Jackets got a stiff challenge from New Albany on Friday night.
The Eagles held the lead for a half, but Mount Vernon’s defense proved too strong and fueled a 54-42 Ohio Capital Conference Capital Division victory. With the win, Mount Vernon stays in second place with a 6-1 mark, and is 8-2 overall. New Albany (6-5, 4-2 OCC Capital) fell into third-place tie with Delaware with the loss.
“The guys have to feel real good about themselves after this win,” said Mount Vernon coach Kurt Kaufman. “We dug a hole early in the game, and we dug a hole to start the third quarter. I thought the biggest difference was we rose to the occasion. Our intensity picked up. Our man-to-man (defense), that was the best man we’ve played in a long, long time. That’s what led to our success. We shut off gaps; they didn’t get anything easy tonight.”
New Albany jumped on the Jackets right from the get-go. Sam Krebs, who would later foul out, scored a layup in the first minute and the Eagles never trailed in the quarter. Mount Vernon kept it close for over four minutes, but three straight buckets, including a 3-pointer by the Eagles’ Tom Smotrich, opened up a 15-6 lead. Russell Doup hit 1-of-2 free throws and Chris Ingersol scored a layup in the final two minutes to cut the lead to six, 15-9, after one.
The Jackets cut it to four 45 seconds into the second quarter after Joe Scott hit a pair of free throws, but a 3 by Ryan Mayle nullified those shots. That was, as it turned out, the Eagles only bucket of the quarter, however. Mount Vernon stepped up its defense and New Albany turned the ball over five times in the first four minutes. Mount Vernon closed the quarter on a 8-2 run and made it a one-point game, 20-19, at halftime.
New Albany started out the game shooting well, going 6-of-13 in the first quarter, but it managed just 1-of-5 in the second. Mount Vernon, on the other hand, struggled to find its groove in either quarter, going 5-of-20 from the field.
Things began to change in the third quarter for the Jackets, but not before New Albany gave them a scare. The Eagles got a pair of buckets by Nick Sosh wrapped around another 3-pointer by Mayle to open up a 27-19 lead in the first three-plus minutes. Then, Tad Glibert was called for an offensive charge on the Jackets’ next possession, and things looked dim.
“We were out of rhythm, and you’ve got to give them credit; they played pretty good defense tonight,” said Kaufman. “Everything we did was a struggle. We were able to score a little bit off of our press, though, and that was the difference in the game.”
As it turned out, it was a good thing for Mount Vernon. The Jackets rallied and, behind their man-to-man defensive pressure, closed the quarter on a 12-0 run. Riley Swanson took a pass from Glibert and hit a 3-pointer to start the run, which also saw a pair of buckets from Scott. A putback by Charlie Phillips with seven seconds left made it a 31-27 Jacket lead after three.
“We knew we had to get some stops,” said Glibert of the team’s defense. “We game up 15 points in the first quarter and we didn’t do a very good job. Coach told us to pick it up and we did.”
Buckets by Scott, Phillips and Ben Hoar stretched the Mount Vernon lead to 10 in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, but New Albany wasn’t done. Behind some pretty good defense themselves, the Eagles got back within five, 40-35, with 1:57 to play, but the Jackets rose to the occasion. Hoar, a junior, and Swanson, a sophomore, stepped up and put the game away for Mount Vernon. Swanson scored seven points and Hoar had six in the final 2 1/2 minutes to put the game away, 54-42.
“We really picked it up defensively in the second and third quarters,” said Glibert. “We gave up five points in the second quarter and seven points in the third; we crashed the boards hard and got some stickbacks.”
Hoar led the team with 16 points, going 8-of-8 from the free-throw line. Swanson scored 12 points, including 6-of-7 from the charity stripe, and each had eight rebounds and two steals. For the game, Mount Vernon was 23-of-31 from the free-throw line. Scott added a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“(Our free-throw shooting) was very crucial,” said Kaufman. “These guys keep growing, keep getting better. We talk about it being a long season, and this is a sign that we’ve progressed a long way. We handled pressure tonight and we handled it real well in terms of stretching the lead.”
Sosh went 5-of-9 from the field for New Albany, scoring 14 points. Mayle added 10 points.
The win sets up a big OCC Capital showdown in Mount Vernon next Friday night. The Jackets will host league-leader Olentangy Orange in a battle for possession of first place. First, however, they have to worry about Newark, whom they face tonight. The game, in Newark, will begin at 6 p.m.
“We’ve got to take it one game at a time,” Kaufman said. “We have to be ready to go because it will be a battle down there. I like the fact that our guys stand up to that and respond when it gets pretty intense. I’m proud of our guys for keeping their cool in a physical game, and it is going to be another one like that tomorrow night. We’re taking it one game at a time, one game at a time.”
“Right now, we control our own destiny,” Glibert said. “If we win out, we will win the league. We really want Orange bad; we got beat by them early in the year. ... We also want to beat Newark. It is always tough at their place. I don’t think we’ve beaten them in like 10 years, so hopefully this is the year we get them back.”
The Mount Vernon junior varsity remained undefeated with a 47-35 victory over New Albany. Will O’Hara came up big for the Jackets (10-0), dropping in 17 points. Nathan Miller added 14 points, and Daniel Kelly and Nick Robinson each scored six points a piece.