Rams undone in CHT opener


Grant Smith

Amir Spann, ’20 looks to take a shot at the game on December 18 against Salem. The Rams’ lost that night for the first time since their second game of the season played at the Pyramid Plus Tournament on November 20.

Brandyn Wilcoxen, Sports Writer

The Centralia Holiday Tournament annually brings teams together from towns near and far to celebrate the holiday season on the hardwood. On a rainy Thursday morning, it brought the Mt. Vernon Rams, a 30-minute drive away, and the Arlington Tigers from Tennessee, a team that spent their Boxing Day embarking on a 4 1/2 hour road trip spanning four states, for an opening round contest that proved worth the traveling time for the Tigers of Tennessee.

When the final buzzer sounded at Centralia High School, two emotions were omnipresent on Mt. Vernon’s side: shock and disappointment, themes that echo the feeling in the locker room after the Rams’ loss to Salem nine nights prior. The result also matched that of the Salem game, albeit not nearly as close. The Arlington Tigers picked up their 4th win in 12 games with a 59-45 victory over the Mt. Vernon Rams, who fell to 9-3 with the loss.

Many factors could be attributed to the upset. Mt. Vernon continued to struggle from deep, making just four 3-pointers to Arlington’s six, three of which came consecutively in the first quarter. Mt. Vernon also had trouble at the free throw line, leaving plenty of points at the line throughout the game. Perhaps the loss came at fault of unfavorable circumstances on offense regarding charging fouls against the Rams. Defensively, the Rams gave up a multitude of backdoor jumpshots and press-breaking layups, which didn’t seem to help their case in any potential comeback.

For all of the finger-pointing that can be done as a result of the game, there are positives that can be drawn from it. Mt. Vernon’s JV players, led by Carson Prost, ’21 with a six point contribution, stepped up where the starters struggled. The Rams relied on the sophomore squad of Prost, Dylan Harkins, ’21, Evan Leake, ’21, Hunter Simmons, ’21, and Quani Rudd, ’21, gave the Rams the opportunity to stay in the ballgame with defensive efforts aplenty. However, it was never enough to comeback from the deficit made early in the game.

The game began going downhill within the first few minutes. A three-pointer from Jackson Creel, ’20, was responded to with 11 straight points for the Tigers. The Rams were down early in the game, but not even close to finished. Two Prost free throws, a basket from Amir Spann, ’20, and a 3-pointer from Simon Wilson, ’20 brought the game within 1 by the end of the opening quarter.

The second period saw both teams keep pace with each other. Creel and Spann combined for 11 points to Arlington’s 10 to tie the game at 21 before a converted and-1 play for the Tigers gave them a 24-21 halftime advantage.

Nearly three minutes and thirty seconds passed before either team scored in the second half, but within seconds of that mark, Arlington had added 4 points to their lead to make it a 28-21 game. Suddenly, the Tigers’ slight advantage had become a greater lead, and the Rams had to stop it. The best the Rams could do, however, is keep pace.

If the Rams were to pull off a comeback, the fourth quarter was the time to do it. The JV squad would get a steal or foul defensively. The starters would substitute in during the free throw(s) and attempt to convert the possession into points. A Mt. Vernon timeout would allow the JV players to come back into the game and the cycle would continue. This strategy worked, shrinking the Tiger lead down to 5 at one point in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough for the Rams to take the lead. The gameplan broke down when Arlington scored a layup, forcing the JV team to try to convert on offense. This led to the Tigers running away with the game, putting together an 11-2 run to seal the game with a 59-45 final.

In terms of scoring, the Rams were led by Spann with 16 points, Creel with 8 points, Prost with 6 points, and Weston Brockhouse, ’19, Luke Cooper, ’19, and Simon Wilson, ’20 with five points each.

The Rams will go back to Centralia to face TF North, who lost their first round matchup against Champaign Central, in the quarterfinals of the Consolation bracket. The game is scheduled to start at 8:30 am on Friday, December 28th.