MOUNT VERNON — “The Hive” at Mount Vernon High School was buzzing on Friday night like it hadn’t in quite a while, and the Yellow Jacket boys basketball team didn’t disappoint with their performance.
Mount Vernon hosted Ohio Capital Conference Capital Division leader Olentangy Orange in a battle of the top two teams, and the Jackets came away with a 59-49 victory. The win lifted the Jackets into a tie for first with the Pioneers at 7-1. It was also Mount Vernon’s 10th win in a row.
“This feels amazing just because they’ve beat us the first three times we’ve played,” said Mount Vernon senior Joe Scott. “We beat them this time and that’s all that counts.”
Friday’s win was a total team effort for Mount Vernon (10-2), which played stellar defense and shot 46.5 percent (20-of-43) from the field. The Jackets outrebounded Orange (9-2), 43-23, while holding them to a 19-of-51 effort (37.3 percent) from the field.
“This is a long process, a long season, and we talk about getting better each and every day whether in practice or in a game. I think this shows all the effort, hard work and all the grind our kids put in,” said Mount Vernon coach Kurt Kaufman. “They’re reaping the benefits of it. Their experiencing the rewards of their daily effort, and that’s what so exciting about a win like this. They deserved it.”
The game turned out to be much close than it looked it would early on. Charlie Phillips start the game with a layup for Mount Vernon, but the shot was matched by a jumper from Pioneers’ post Cameron Sheehan. That was all for Orange, however, as Mount Vernon closed the quarter with 16 straight points.
“We came out with a lot more intensity than (Orange) did,” said Mount Vernon senior Russell Doup. “I think that kind of intimidated them. We were also focused.”
The Jacket defense caused the Pioneers some problems, as witnessed by their five turnovers and 1-of-9 shooting. Ben Hoar scored six points in the quarter to lead Mount Vernon.
“We always talk about defense, and that’s got to be our mainstay,” Kaufman said. “Our guys buy into it.”
Orange senior Zach Joseph, 0-for-4 in the first period, finally got on track at the start of the second quarter. He hit a 3-pointer to open the quarter and added a layup and another 3 to pull Orange back within 10, 20-10, with 6:07 to play. The teams traded shots to keep the lead at 10, but two free throws by Hoar and three straight baskets by Riley Swanson closed the half and put Mount Vernon ahead, 32-14.
Having already withstood one Pioneer rally, Kaufman knew he would have to do it more than once in the second half as Orange wasn’t giving up so easily. And he was right.
A pair of 3-pointers by Sheehan started the third quarter for the Pioneers and fueled an 8-2 run in the first three minutes. Fouls slowed them down, however and put the Jackets at the line, where they made 5-of-8 to reopen a 39-22 lead with 3:30 left in the quarter. Orange wasn’t done, however. It made another charge as Taylor Rieger and Joseph scored 12 of the next 16 points to get the lead down to single digits, 43-34. A free throw by Scott ended the quarter and made it a 10-point game heading into the final period.
“Every team has their runs, and we needed to get a stop,” said Scott. “We knew they were good.”
Joseph scored off a layup to quickly make it an eight-point game at the start of the fourth, but a rare four-point play by Phillips and a putback by Scott kept Orange at bay for a moment. Free-throw troubles and turnovers cost Mount Vernon shots to put the game out of reach, and Orange cut the lead to seven, 50-43, with 2:28 to play. That was as close as the Pioneers got, however.
“They are a very experienced team; they’ve been through it before and understand. They are going to make their runs, but every time they made a run, we were able to capitalize on getting a key stop or beating their pressure for an easy basket to kind of keep that gap.”
Scott scored a layup and a pair of free throws to give his team some breathing room, and despite another 3-pointer by Joseph and Bryce Agler, the Jackets hit enough free throws down the stretch to win the game.
Swanson, who went 7-of-8 from the charity stripe, led the way with 15 points for Mount Vernon. Scott had 14 points and 18 rebounds; and Phillips dropped in 11 points, and had four rebounds and two steals. Hoar added eight points and nine rebounds.
Joseph scored a game-high 22 points for Orange, while Rieger had 12 points and six rebounds.
Mount Vernon’s junior varsity improved to 12-0 with a 40-23 victory over the Pioneers. Leading the way for Mount Vernon was Will O’Hara with 16 points. Daniel Kelly had 10 points, and Nathan Miller dropped in six points.
The Jackets will have a few days to enjoy this win before heading to Delaware on Tuesday. The Jackets will play the Pacers in another conference game, starting at 6 p.m.
“We’re going to enjoy this one tonight, and like I told the guys, ‘They deserve it,’” said Kaufman. “Come (today), it will be business as usual. Delaware, whether we beat Orange or didn’t beat Orange, they don’t care. They are worried about beating Mount Vernon, so we’ve got to prep for them. We’ve got to be ready to go because now we just put a target on our back.”
“This really helps us get momentum going into the second half of conference play,” said Doup. “We want to finish out by winning them all and we into Delaware on Tuesday, which is a pretty tough place to play. Hopefully, we can go in there and play strong.”