BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MT. VERNON – Mt. Vernon’s is a pretty one-dimensional team. Set up on the perimeter and let it fly. But when it works it’s almost unstoppable.
And in the first half of Monday’s Class 3A Substate 5 basketball game on the Mustang’s home floor it was – almost unstoppable.
The Mustangs ended Fort Madison’s season 77-62, but not before the Hounds all but wiped out a perimeter spectacle from Mt. Vernon in the first half.
Mustang senior Jayden Meeker it four straight threes to start the game. Fort Madison tried to hang around in the long-range contest with Tate Johnson and Miles Dear both answering as the game itself started with six 3-balls.
Meeker would rim out his next shot, from about 21 feet on the right wing, and classmate Keaton Kutcher would miss inside in back-to-back possessions, while Dear would find the range at the other end for a 12-10 Mt. Vernon lead in the early going.
Kutcher and Meeker combined for 47 points in the win. Meeker has shot 47% from the field for the year.
The Mustangs would start to pull away finishing the first period on an 11-1 run with Kutcher hitting back-to-back 3-balls.
Tate Johnson tried to answer right in front the Mustang bench from 3-land, but the junior was the victim of a mid-air mugging to no whistle trying to cut the lead to three.
Senior Collin Swantz got in on the 3-point action at the other end after Fort Madison’s Dayton Davis scored his first point on the back end of a two-shot foul.
After a Hounds turnover, Meeker scored on a layup for a 23-13 lead.
Dear, who finished with 13 on the night, would exchange fire from 3-point land to cut the lead to seven as the Hounds looked to regain their footing from the early long-range barrage.
Davis then went to work defensively coming up with two steals in Mt. Vernon’s half court sets and converted them into four straight points cutting the lead to just three at 25-22.
With just seconds left in the first, Swants missed on bucket inside, but got his own rebound and put it back in just before the buzzer for 27-22 first quarter lead.
Swants would start the second with a 3. Dear would slice into the lane and miss for the Hounds, but junior Matt Hopper would gobble up the rebound and put it back in with a foul to keep Fort Madison close at 30-25 just into the 2nd period.
With Fort Madison trailing 32-27. Meeker would miss on the back end of two free throws, but Kutcher snared the rebound and whipped it out to Swantz who again filled it up from beyond the arc for a nine-point lead. The Mustangs would hold that margin the rest of the first half and take a 45-36 lead into the locker room.
Fort Madison Head Coach Ryan Wilson told the Hounds at the break the Mustangs weren’t going to get 10 more threes in the second half.
“Just weather the storm,” Wilson said. “10 threes in the first half, some teams don’t do that in a whole season, we just had to play our game and weather that storm.”
The forecast was almost right on as For Madison would clamp down on the Mustang’s perimeter game with some added pressure and traps of Kutcher and Meeker.
Mt. Vernon hit on just 2 of 13 in the 3rd quarter. Unfortunately, the Hounds also went cold making 4 of 13. A couple of free throws from the Mustangs kept the lead at nine at 56-47 after three.
The Mustangs would go to the free throw line 24 times in the game, to Fort Madison’s 11.
In the fourth, Meeker started with a 3 to open Mt. Vernon’s biggest lead at 12, but it would the last three Mt. Vernon would get as Fort Madison wasn’t leaving the facility without one last run.
Kutcher would add a bucket inside for 61-47 lead, but then Junior Reiburn Turnbull, who led Fort Madison with 16 points, hit a three with 6:34 left in the game.
The Hounds defense would get a stop, Hopper would score off a nice interior look from Dear. Kutcher would miss at the other end, and Davis would score in transition slicing through the middle of two Mustang defenders in transition.
Brady Ketchum would miss a couple free throws after Turnbull was whistled for a foul. Fort Madison would get the rebound and rush up floor with Turnbull pulling up deep and missing. Dear would sneak inside the taller Mustang seniors and snag the board and put it back in with a fadeaway 4-footer to make it a seven-point game 63-56.
Mt. Vernon would miss two free throws when Turnbull was whistled for his fourth foul. but the Mustangs would grab not one, but three offensive boards in a row and still fail to convert.
Davis would finally snap out the rebound and get up court, but missed in transition under the basket. Mt. Vernon failed to score on the way back down and then Tate Johnson hit a three from the right baseline to cut the lead to four at 63-59 prompting a Fort Madison time out with just 3:18 on the clock.
The Hounds were whistled for back-to-back fouls in the next two possessions out of the break, and the Mustangs hit all four to get the lead back to eight.
Fort Madison would commit a couple big turnovers on their own end of the floor trying to force some shots and Mt. Vernon took advantage with Kutcher and Jensen Meeker each scoring off the miscues to put the game away.
Turnbull would end the Hounds scoring with, of all things, a 3-ball from the left wing to set the final score.
Wilson said the difference in the final quarter was taking advantage of Mt. Vernon’s missed shots.
“We didn’t rebound. Gave up three offensive rebounds in a row, off two missed free throws and gave them 13 offensive rebounds in the second half.”
Wilson who fields a team with no seniors said he’s excited about the team’s prospects for next year, but said they have to overcome the glitches that led to them being a number seven seed, playing in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar referees.
“I’m not complaining at all about the referees, but they know that team. They don’t know us and our tendencies. They’ve seen these boys and we have to start putting ourselves in better positions for the post season,” Wilson said.
“They had to remember this feeling. They’ll all be back next year and we don’t want to be in this situation again.”
Wilson pointed to a one-point loss to Burlington where they went 15-34 at the line – a game where they blew an 8-point lead at Washington to lose by three, and then a buzzer beater loss to Fairfield.
“We keep those games in control and we’re not a seven seed playing up here,” Wilson said.
“This group plays so hard and there’s a bit of bickering because they all want to win so bad and they all want to accomplish the same thing, but next year we’ve got to become better teammates.
“I’m excited to see what next year brings.”
To go with Turnbull’s 16 points, Davis had 14, Miles Dear had 13 and Tate Johnson had 11. Matt Hopper would finish with five and Goldie would round out the Hounds scoring with three points on the night.
Fort Madison finishes the year 8-12 with a 4-6 Southeast Conference record.