Rams complete season sweep against Marion

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Photo by Grant Smith

Amir Spann, '20 slams a one-handed dunk as Marion watches in amazement.

Brandyn Wilcoxen, Sports Writer

The starting lineups were announced at Stanley A. Changnon Gymnasium, a roaring crowd drowning out all others. The Starting Five ran out, and their Khaos Kage counterparts – wearing their away jerseys for Immitation Night – ran down the bleachers in a makeshift human tunnel. It was game time at Mount Vernon Township High School, and the return to Changnon for the Rams lived up to its own hype.

 

The Mount Vernon Rams welcomed the Marion Wildcats, who they have triumphed over twice already in 2018, and rang in the 2019 chapter of the historic rivalry with a 51-47 victory for Mt. Vernon. The Rams (13-7, 4-1) defeated the Wildcats (12-11, 0-6) in the closest match up between the two squads since their last meeting at Changnon Gymnasium on December 1, 2017, ended with a 45-44 final.

 

The Rams were victorious thanks to 18 points and 17 points from Amir Spann, ‘20 and Simon Wilson, ‘20 respectively. They were joined in scoring by Weston Brockhouse, ‘19 with seven points, Lukas Cooper, ‘19 with six points, and Jackson Creel, ‘20 with a three-pointer.

 

Given recent finals of 59-47 and 58-31 in favor of the Rams against the Wildcats, a similar result was expected. However, the Rams were slow out of the gate, only mustering 12 points in the entire first half, trailing 16-12 going into the locker room. For the most part, the game was a defensive showdown, where neither team’s offense could put together many successful trips, let alone a run.

 

The second half was a different story. The Rams broke open the game in the third quarter, with Wilson igniting the offense with nine points in the period. Mt. Vernon jumped ahead by those nine points by the time the third buzzer sounded, taking a 30-21 lead into the final quarter.

 

Enter Marion guard Jackson Connor. Connor was a key contributor for Marion last year when the Wildcats won their Regional and Sectional Championships, and his impact against the Rams cannot be looked over. Marion had their backs against the wall, needing a huge comeback against a white-hot Rams offense. The boost they needed came in the form of Connor’s 29-point showing, most of which came in the fourth quarter, as Connor hit four 3-pointers on consecutive to pull the Wildcats back from what would grow into an 11-point lead before his run.

 

The game was becoming closer than anyone in attendance would have imagined – especially since the Rams JV squad preceded the contest with a 50+ point thrashing of the Wildcat reserves – but the varsity Rams still remained ahead 45-40 with one minute left. Marion became desperate, fouling Spann with hopes that he’d miss his free throws. Their hopes only halfway came true, with Spann sinking one of the two. The Wildcats responded with a quick bucket. It was a 4-point game.

 

Once again, this time with 43 seconds to go, Spann was fouled. This time, he made both free throws, and a Marion basket only made back up those lost points. With 29 seconds, the strategy repeated, and again Spann sank both shots. At this point, the Wildcats realized they needed more than just to keep pace. They needed three-point trips, and they got one when Connor was fouled on a shot by Spann. He made all three of his foul shots to make the score 50-47 Rams. 22 seconds remained.

 

On the inbound pass, Spann was once again fouled, and Marion got the result they desired. Spann missed both free throws to give Marion one last chance to tie the game. Marion’s Jackson Connor dribbled the clock down to single-digits. The Khaos Kage counted down. “5…4…3…2…1…” Connor threw the ball up with four hands in his face. The shot was far off the mark. He looked up at the clock. It was still ticking. The Khaos Kage had confused the Wildcats’ best shooter in the most important moment of the game and forced a bad shot. The game would end thanks to the Rams’ home-court advantage.

 

The Wildcats desperately fouled Cooper with eight-tenths of a second remaining, but just one free throw sealed the win for the Mt. Vernon Rams, who have completed the season sweep against Marion. The Rams return to Changnon on Tuesday, January 29 against Jerseyville (10-13). They will defend their now 4-0 home record in the contest. Tipoff for the JV game is scheduled for 5:30, with the varsity game to follow.