MT. VERNON -- The Marion Wildcats managed just two field goals in a disastrous first quarter, falling 73-60 in a South Seven Conference boys basketball game at Mt. Vernon.
The Wildcats dropped to 12-6 with the loss and 3-2 in South Seven play. Mt. Vernon improved to 13-4 overall and is also 3-2 in the conference. Both teams are tied for third place, one game behind conference co-leaders Carbondale and Centralia.
The Rams came out red hot, with Jackson Creel knocking down three 3-pointers in his first four tries as the Wildcats were behind 9-0 in the first two minutes. It was 11-0 before Marion finally scored on a 3-point field goal by Venson Newsom, and the Rams stretched the lead to 21-6 by the end of the first period.
"They had some balls roll to them that ended up being step-in threes," said Marion assistant coach Scott McKenty. "That's kind of just bad luck for us. Our kids battled all night long, played hard. We took care of the ball. Once you get down 9-0, 21-6 at the end of the first quarter, it takes you out of your game plan."
The Wildcats made the first run early in the second quarter, cutting the margin to 23-13 with a seven-point streak sparked by solid post play from Brett Lewis. Lewis finished with eight points in the second period. Marion outscored Mt. Vernon 12-7 in the second to cut the lead to 28-18 by intermission.
"Brett's been working hard," McKenty said. "We've been talking about getting him going. He's finally healthy which is the main thing for Brett. He played hard and did what we asked him to do."
Jackson Connor heated up in the second half, and the Wildcats pulled to within seven in the third period. Connor scored nine of his game-high 26 points in the third period, but Mt. Vernon kept Marion at arm's length with seven more points from Creel and five each from Amir Spann and Simon Wilson.
The seven was as close as Marion got. Mt. Vernon led 50-35 at the end of the third quarter and made 17 out of 22 free throws in the fourth quarter as the Wildcats were fouling to try to get back into the game.
"That's what good teams do," said McKenty. "That's the reason it's hard to come over here in win. We had a good effort overall. There are just little things we need to do to get better."
Creel matched Connor with 26 points. Carson Prost added 15 and Quani Rudd netted 13 for the Rams. Joining Connor in double figures for Marion were Lewis with 11 and Newsom had 10.
The Wildcats are back in action Tuesday night in the opening round of the West Frankfort Mid-Winter Classic. Marion takes on Cairo in the tournament's first game at 6 p.m.
• Tim Petrowich is the publisher and editor of Dateline Marion. Dateline Marion can be found at www.datelinemarion.com.