By PAUL HINES
The Rams basketball team bounced back from a loss with a 74-38 Friday morning thrashing of Salem in the Centralia Holiday Tournament.
“I just thought right from the start we had more energy today at 8:30 in the morning than we’ve had really since we played Cahokia,” Mt. Vernon coach Scott Gamber said. “I’m very proud of them for that.”
Mt. Vernon scored the opening 14 points of the game and held Salem scoreless for four minutes to start. Mt. Vernon took a 19-4 lead into the second quarter and held a 41-16 halftime advantage.
The Rams defense clamped down on the Wildcats and forced eight turnovers in the opening quarter. Several of the Salem miscues led to layups for Mt. Vernon.
“I thought our kids did a really nice job on the defensive end,” Gamber said. “I thought we got a little bit of offense because of our defense, which helps. We’ve struggled scoring of late. So it’s nice that our defense gave us a few easy baskets.”
Four players reached double figures for the Rams, and Jake Pike led the group with 15. Trevor Flota added 13. Braden Fitzjerrells and Michael Feezer both added 11 points each.
“We hit a lot of shots that we haven’t been hitting,” Gamber said. “When you hit some shots, I think that makes you play a little harder. I was proud of our kids for how they bounced back.”
After halftime, the Rams opened the quarter hitting four straight 3-pointers. The hot shooting pushed the Rams lead past 30 points. Flota opened the barrage. Pike hit a pair, and Fitzjerrells added another long-range shot.
“I thought (Thursday) we were real dribble happy in our offense,” Gamber said. “I thought everything we got was off the dribble. I thought we did a better job today of moving the ball without putting it on the floor.”
Mt. Vernon is 8-5 this season and plays at 10 a.m. in the Centralia annex against Alton. The Redbirds beat Champaign Central 64-57. The winner of the Saturday morning matchup plays for the consolation title at 6 p.m.
“It was very important, not just to get today’s win, but to play better doing it,” Gamber said.