Rams prevail over Orphans in sold-out Changnon


Brandyn Wilcoxen , Sports Editor

In the four years that Stanley A. Changnon Gymnasium 2.0 has existed, the home of the Mt. Vernon Rams has served host to 32 Rams basketball games. As of February 7, 2020, the Rams have gone 24-8 at home since 2016 including an ongoing 13-game winning streak. Various different factors play into such success over a 4-year span, and undoubtedly one of the most influential is the massive fan support emanating from the Ram faithful. That support was on full display for the 11th Annual Blackout Game against the Centralia Orphans, which produced the first sold-out crowd in the history of the new campus.

As for the game itself, the capacity crowd was treated to a back-and-forth installment into the classic rivalry that is Mt. Vernon vs. Centralia, ultimately seeing the Rams prevail with a 57-48 final. With the win, the Rams bring the 4-way tie for first place in the South 7 Conference down to 3 teams; the Carbondale Terriers and Marion Wildcats both won on Friday night, moving to 5-2 in conference play while the Orphans fell to fourth place at 4-3.

Leading the Rams in scoring was SWIC commit Simon Wilson, ‘20 with 17 points, along with fellow Seniors Amir Spann and Jackson Creel with 11 points each. Quani Rudd, ‘21 added nine points, Carson Prost, ‘21 contributed six points, and Hunter Simmons, ‘21 converted an and-1 opportunity to tally three points for the victorious Mt. Vernon team.

Along with the sold-out crowd, Changnon achieved another first, as Friday marked the first time the home team was introduced with the lights turned out in the gym. With a spotlight literally on them and the Khaos Kage roaring like never before, the pre-game atmosphere was electric, unmatched by any in Southern Illinois.

Following the pre-game festivities was the game itself, which proved to be heavily influenced by the momentum of each team. The Rams began the game with a 14-6 run through the entire first quarter, led by 5 points from Wilson and 4 from Prost. However, the Orphans responded with a 13-2 run of their own interrupted only by Rudd’s lone basket of the second quarter. Trailing for the first time at home all year, the Rams responded with back-to-back three-pointers from Spann and Wilson to regain the lead, and then baskets by each once again to take a 26-19 lead into halftime.

The second half saw more back-and-forth action, with neither team willing to give up their chance to close the game out. Each extension of Mt. Vernon’s lead was met with a Centralia counter, resulting in a 4-point Rams lead heading into the final quarter of the final game in 2020 between two of the winningest high school programs in the country. The final frame opened with a Spann basket negated by a Centralia bucket. A Wilson jumper was countered by a Centralia score, then Wilson hit a three-pointer to stretch the lead to 7, and after a defensive stop by the Rams, Rudd emphatically dunked in front of the raucous Khaos Kage to an enormous ovation.

However, Rudd was controversially called for a technical foul for hanging on the rim too long, allowing the Orphans to gain those two points back on free throws and garnering jeers from the Orange and Black faithful. Another defensive stop by the Rams gave Rudd an opportunity to slam it down once again, sending the sold-out Changnon into a frenzy and sending the Rams to a nine point lead with mere minutes to play.

Nine made free throws by Creel down the stretch gave the Rams a victorious final score of 57-48, marking their second consecutive home victory over the rival Centralia Orphans. The jam-packed Khaos Kage stormed the court and celebrated the biggest win thus far in the Rams’ campaign as the home team earned their 19th win of the season, the most since 2014-15.

The Mt. Vernon Rams (19-5, 5-2) will return to the court on Friday, February 14 when they visit the Althoff Crusaders (8-17, 3-5) in Belleville. Meanwhile, the Marion Wildcats (18-7, 5-2) will host the Carbondale Terriers (18-6, 5-2) in a pivotal South 7 Conference matchup. Tipoff for the JV game is scheduled for 6:15 pm, with the varsity game to follow.