By Jeff Kessinger (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Stockton coach Derald Henderson had a goal for his Tigers in their first-round Gold Division game against Mount Vernon Dec. 26. They met that goal, but it wasn’t quite enough to upset the sixth-seeded Mountaineers.
Offensive sparks from Mason Ballay in the first half and Zach Jones in the second pushed Mount Vernon to a 48-35 win at JQH Arena.
“I wanted to hold at 48 or below, using defensive and offensive pace. We did that, so that’s big for us,” Stockton coach Derald Henderson said. “They can score the ball and I thought we did a nice job on defense.”
Mount Vernon led wire-to-wire, though it wasn’t always easy. The game was scoreless for more than three minutes before a pair of Ballay 3-pointers gave the Mt’neers an 11-2 lead after one quarter.
Ballay sank two more in the second quarter to help Mount Vernon open up a 10-point lead. But Stockton got buckets from Tate Wheeler and Jay Baxter to get within 24-18 at the halftime break.
“(Ballay) kind of opened things up for us offensively,” Mount Vernon coach Mike Ray said. “He’d been struggling with his shot, so once he saw one or two go in that gave him some confidence — and we needed that.”
That was about as close as the Tigers could get. Jones scored 11 of his 12 points in the second half, seven of them in the third quarter, to help the Mt’neers keep Stockton at arms-length and escape with the win.
“(Jones) is a warrior,” Ray said. “He’s the quarterback on our football team and an undersized post player, but he gives you everything he’s got. He’s a great kid.”
Ballay scored 21 points to lead all scorers. The junior guard knocked down six 3-pointers, at least one in every quarter, to finish two shy of tying the Gold Division record. Branson’s Tate Unruh hit eight 3-pointers back in 2007 to set that mark.
Drew Wheeler, also a junior, paced Stockton with 19 points despite heavy attention from Mount Vernon.
“We knew the Wheeler kid is a good player and can score some points, so that was a point of emphasis for us,” Ray said. “He scored, but I thought he had to work for it quite a bit.”
Wheeler was scoreless in the first quarter, but connected on three 3-pointers as he piled up points the rest of the night.
“Everybody should know who he is. He’s a good player,” Henderson said. “He’s just got to be a little more patient and we need to do a good job screening for him and getting him open. He knows that he’s got to carry the offensive load for us and sometimes he puts that burden on his shoulders.”
Mount Vernon advances to the Gold Division winner’s bracket and a showdown with host Greenwood in the second round. That game will tip off at 9:30 p.m. Dec. 27. Greenwood, seeded third, defeated Camdenton 76-48.
Stockton will square off with Camdenton in the Gold Division consolation bracket. The Tigers and Lakers will also tip off at 9:30, in Hammons Student Center.