By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Rogersville, Mo. — When Rogersville’s three-headed monster gets rolling, it’s difficult to stop.
After a red-hot start from the perimeter, the Wildcats raced out to a 24-point lead Tuesday evening en route to a 76-64 victory over Big 8 conference rival Mt. Vernon.
Senior Luke Vandersnick led a trio of 20-point scorers for Rogersville with 23 in the contest. Classmate Ryker Strong finished with 22 points, and junior Cade Blevins added 20 in the win.
Vandersnick, a 6-foot-5 matchup nightmare due to all-around playmaking abilities, drew the lion’s share of Mt. Vernon’s defensive focus in the first half.
As a result, the Wildcats benefitted from timely kickouts to open shooters on the perimeter.
Converting 7-of-9 of those 3-point attempts in the first half certainly didn’t hurt.
“If they’re going to be on me, then I know there’s gonna be somebody open,” Vandersnick said. “They started running a little box-and-one on me towards the end of the second, and that’s when we started lining them up with threes.”
All things considered — the party was a bit late to get started, as Rogersville trailed early in the second. Mt. Vernon junior Cale Miller connected on a pair of 3-pointers to put the Mountaineers up 18-17.
With his offense sputtering a bit, Rogersville head coach John Schaefer called a quick timeout.
The Wildcats immediately responded.
Strong, Blevins and sophomore Kanon Gipson combined to hit a trio of 3-pointers in succession, and Rogersville broke the game open with a 22-4 run to end the first half.
Blevins was particularly effective in the quarter, knocking down three buckets of his own from long range.
The 6-foot-4 sharpshooter talked about having renewed confidence following the timeout.
“[Coach] is telling us that we were driving too much and dribbling and we need to hit open people,” Blevins said. “So, at that point, we started moving the ball around more, setting screens and getting open shots around the three. Coach told us to start shooting when we’re open, and we got the ball, saw the rim and let it fly.”
While Mt. Vernon was having enough troubles dealing with the Rogersville attack on its own, a rising foul count was further hampering the Mountaineers’ game plan.
Sophomore Mason Ballay picked up his second and third fouls within seconds of one another late in the first quarter and was forced to the Mt. Vernon bench as a result.
In the third quarter, Miller and senior Kelly Vaughn were also whistled for their third fouls, creating a dilemma for Mountaineers head coach Mike Ray.
“We had a couple kids get into foul trouble, so we had to kind of go into our bench,” Ray said. “That hurt us a little bit, offensively, with our flow. We had to kind of switch defenses and, yea, Blevins and Strong hit some threes. We knew they were good players but, obviously, we’re keying on Vandersnick, and those guys hit those threes.”
With Mt. Vernon playing back on its heels, the Wildcats continued to press on the gas in the third quarter.
An early basket from Strong gave Rogersville its biggest lead of the game at 46-22.
Despite the sizable deficit, the Mountaineers weren’t quite ready to roll over and quit.
Especially not with a more-than-capable scorer in Ballay on the roster.
Playing with a trio of fouls, the 6-foot guard erupted in the third, scoring Mt. Vernon’s final 13 points in the quarter.
Down 56-40 heading into the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers continued chipping away at the Rogersville lead.
A trio of free throws from Vaughn at the three-minute mark trimmed the once-massive deficit into single digits at 63-55.
For Coach Ray, the Mountaineer rally wasn’t as much about effort as it was execution.
“Our kids were disappointed,” Ray said. “Not in their effort, but in the results at halftime. Part of it was just their own personal pride wanting to do well but, defensively, we were able to kind of go back to man and push the ball a little bit and then, at the same time, we hit some shots, too. You know, the game’s pretty easy when you make shots.”
While Mt. Vernon continued to put points up on the board, the team was unable to cut into the lead any further.
In a word — Vandersnick.
Rogersville’s go-to scorer provided a counterpunch to nearly every basket Mt. Vernon was able to make in the final three minutes, scoring on three straight possessions and then firing a full-court assist to sophomore Addy Miller for a fourth.
Schaefer praised his senior leader for taking control of the game when it mattered most.
“[Vandersnick] is a mismatch for them … that’s why we stick him down there,” Schaefer said. “Pick your poison — if you want to guard the perimeter, he’s going to get some easy baskets, and if you want to guard him, then we’re going to shoot it.”
After the game, Schaefer wasn’t particularly pleased with his team’s defensive effort — referring to it as average — but credited Mt. Vernon for its late-game competitive flurry.
“We shot the ball really well,” Schaefer said. “Seven of nine from three in the first half — that’s going to build a lead — but Mt. Vernon’s a good team. When you’re behind you got nothing to lose, so they let it fly and probably took some shots they typically wouldn’t — and made them. I don’t know that our effort was the greatest effort in the second half, but it was good enough to win.”
Feeling fortunate with a key conference win in the bag, Vandersnick was a bit more direct.
“We kind of shut down on defense,” Vandersnick said. “We got lazy because we had such a lead, and we can’t do that next time. Otherwise, we might lose.”
Varsity Final: Rogersville – 76, Mt. Vernon – 64
Mt. Vernon 12 10 18 24 — 64
Rogersville 15 24 17 20 — 76
Mt. Vernon scoring: Mason Ballay – 27, Cale Miller – 19, Kelly Vaughn – 12, Slater Eldridge – 4, Zach Jones – 2
Rogersville scoring: Luke Vandersnick – 23, Ryker Strong – 22, Cade Blevins – 20, Kanon Gipson – 5, Josh Linehan – 4, Addy Miller – 2