Rams stunned in Salem, streak snapped at 7


Grant Smith

Amir Spann, ’20 brings the ball down the court at the game on Tuesday night. Spann led in scoring that night.

Brandyn Wilcoxen, Sports Writer

Thirty-one minutes and fifty-nine seconds ticked off the game clock at B.E. Gum Gymnasium. The score was even at 40 points each. It was all going to come down to one shot.

The Mt. Vernon Rams went into hostile territory on Tuesday to take on the Salem Wildcats in the final game for the Rams before the Centralia Holiday Tournament. Mt. Vernon was riding high on a 7 game win streak, and were recently named the 103.5 ESPN Southern Illinois Basketball Team of the Week following wins against Centralia and Monroe City. A game against a team that was struggling to stay around .500 didn’t appear to be one decided in the final seconds.

To open the contest, Salem hit a three-pointer. The Rams responded with baskets from Amir Spann, ’20 and Weston Brockhouse, ’19 to grab a 4-3 lead. Salem continued to hit threes, building a 5 point lead, the largest deficit the Rams have faced since December 1st against De Smet Jesuit. In typical Rams fashion, they rallied back with eight straight points to grab the lead for the second time in the game.

It was the final lead MV would have in the game. The Wildcats tied it up at 12 (with another three-pointer) near the end of the first quarter. In that moment, everyone knew they were going to see a lot closer of a game than was expected. Then, Salem pulled ahead, going on a 9-2 rally to form a sizable gap between them and the Rams. With halftime looming, Spann single-handedly brought the Rams back within 3, but the Wildcats held on to take a 25-21 lead into the locker room.

Salem started the next quarter on fire, getting 5 straight points to pull ahead of MV by nine. The rest of the quarter, the Wildcats had a reply to every bit of offensive production from Mt. Vernon. A Brockhouse bucket was met with a Salem 2-pointer. A Spann and-1 was countered with 2 free throws from the Wildcats. Another Brockhouse make was made up for with yet another Wildcat jumpshot. The Salem lead was seven, 36-29, after the third period. The Salem student section, whose theme was pajama night, was ready to finally see their team put the Mt. Vernon Rams to sleep. However, the Rams would not go down easy.

In the fourth quarter, MV played a press defense, trapping Salem’s offense and slowing offensive production to just one three-pointer and a single free-throw. Turnover after turnover gave the Rams more possessions to make a comeback, and they seized the opportunity. Brockhouse, Spann, and Luke Cooper, ’19 combined for seven points, with all four of Salem’s points in the middle of the run, to cut the lead down to 4. The Rams were making a comeback, and there was little Salem could do to stop it.

With the game clock showing 3:08, Jackson Creel, ’20 came away with a steal and a fast break layup to make the score 40-38 Wildcats. One minute and seven seconds later, steal from Spann set up another Creel layup. The game was tied at 40 with under 2 minutes to play. Salem missed their attempt to pull ahead once more, and the Rams pulled down the rebound. They had the ball, and were looking to take the final shot.

13.6 seconds remained on the clock when Spann, seeking a basket to push his team ahead, was stripped on a controversial no-call. Salem had the ball back, but their lack of offensive production seemed to be their downfall.

The clock ticked down to single digits. A Salem Wildcat drove through the cluster of orange jerseys and threw the ball in the air. The shot was far from good, but the sound of a ref’s whistle send Salem into a frenzy. With exactly 1 second left, all they needed was a single free throw to win the game.

The first shot missed. MV rebounded. The game was going to OT, but the referees came together, and called the players back onto the court. While Salem was in the bonus, meaning all fouls gave Salem only one guaranteed shot, the call was a shooting foul, giving Salem two shots. They had one more chance to seal the game.

The shot went up, and it went down. MV’s desperation heave bounced off the front of the rim, flew directly back up, and hit the ground. The Wildcats had done it. The Rams’ comeback had fallen short.

“We’re gonna stub our toe sometimes,” coach Doug Creel said of the loss. “We’ve won a couple close ones, but sometimes the close ones come to bite you.”

The Rams were led in scoring by Spann with 15 points, Brockhouse with 12 points, Creel with 7 points, Simon Wilson, ’20 with 5 points, and Cooper with 1 point.

One of the major struggles for the Rams was from beyond the arc. Wilson was the only Ram to make a 3-pointer, while Salem scored their first 15 points on 3-pointers.

The Rams drop to 9-2, and will look for redemption against Arlington (TN) in the first round of the Centralia Holiday Tournament. The game will take place on Thursday, December 27. Tip off is scheduled for 10 am.