Saturday, February 1, 2014

Hackett's Poise, Mount Vernon's Depth Outlast Tigers

By his own estimation, Tyger Hackett shoots around 80 percent from the free throw line during practice.

The Mount Vernon senior hasn’t been to the line all that much this season, but in practice he knocks them back at an efficient clip.

The Knights typically shoot 50 free throws per practice.  Following a lackluster four-point win over New Rochelle, however, Bob Cimmino increased the workload to 100 free throws.

“I made 86 out of 100 (in practice),” said Hackett, who scored seven of Mount Vernon’s final eight points on a key 3-pointer and four consecutive free throws,  securing a wild 54-50 victory over arch rival White Plains.

“You have to make those free throws when it counts. We practice them all the time. We know we have to hit them during games like this.”

The upset-craving Tigers were paced by the 1-2 scoring punch of  Mike DeMello and Jordan Tucker.

 DeMello and Tucker combined for 33 of White Plains’ 50 points, stretching out the Knights’ perimeter defense.

 Oddly enough, both Tucker and DeMello got their basketball teeth cut in Mount Vernon’s grass-roots programs as youngsters. Friday night, they were on the other side of the battle.

DeMello popped a deep 3-pointer on the run, chopping the deficit to 52-50 with 06.4 seconds left.

The Knights were anticipating a rim run. Conventional wisdom would tell us the Tigers would get off a quick interior bucket, followed by a Spencer Mayfield timeout. 

Late-game poise from DeMello (18 points), who stuck two 3-pointers in the final 1:42, made it a one possession game. 

Then, with all the calm in the world, Hackett buried two free throws.  

The Knights tightened up defensively in the second half, a requirement after Tucker scored 13 of his 15 points in a first half shooting spree.

Mount Vernon’s key stop came from veteran guard Devonte Banner. 

Embodying a ball-hawking cornerback applying draping coverage on a receiver, Banner levitated and picked off a crucial inbounds pass with under a minute to play.

The Knights were set in “Orange,” a defensive format which emphasizes baseline protection.

The Knights closed out on White Plains’ shooters and sealed off dribble drive penetration. They reaped immediate results, as Banner swatted a 3-point attempt and blurred out in transition to draw a hard foul.

“That’s Devonte for you,” said Hackett, the nephew of former Mount Vernon star Rudy Hackett.

“He makes big plays. We work on (Orange) most of the time in practice and we’re very confident with that. We know we have to stay focused, we know coach (Cimmino) has the best preparation for us. Tonight, we did a good job of listening and staying focused.”

Hackett sustained his focus throughout the fourth quarter. The bullish 6-foot-3 guard/forward's straight-away 3-pointer extended the lead to 49-42.

Mount Vernon has now edged out New Rochelle and White Plains, each by an identical 54-50 score, to sweep rivalry week.

 They also swept the regular season matchup with the Tigers, swept away 11 first half fouls and swept rare first half turnovers under the rug.

 That thorn in Mount Vernon’s side was from Tucker’s shooting hand.

 Hell-bent on avenging a jarringly ugly and dismal 47-39 early January loss to the Knights, the 6-foot-6 Tucker splashed a 3-pointer from the wing, supplying White Plains with a 25-20 second quarter lead. He knocked down 3-pointers, a pull-up, and even a nifty banker in traffic.

After Akeem Krubally (12 points) and Tucker traded free throws, Banner beat the half time buzzer with a long trey to cut the deficit to three, 29-26.

In the third quarter, the Knights’ bench supplied the fireworks. The hustle of Marquis Henry, who had hand in nearly every play, helped build an eight-point bulge. Henry banged a corner jumper and soared in for a stick-back that made it 41-38.

Mount Vernon’s manpower in the paint, punctuated by several second and third chance buckets, slashed and burned the Tigers' chances.

Henry scored 12 points and tore down 11 boards. Mount Vernon had position-to-position depth and balance in the scorebook. Hackett scored nine points and ripped down five boards.

For eons, Mount Vernon has thrived with a level of unrivaled Section 1 star power.

The program has groomed top-profile players such as Ben Gordon, Keith Benjamin, Chris Lowe, Kevin Jones, and most recently Jabarie Hinds.

 The Knights most recent stud, arguably the Section’s best all-around player in Banner, was relatively quiet. 

Henry cranked up the volume with his dynamic third quarter and Hackett preserved the win at the free throw line.

The ability to change defenders, without a drop off, propelled Knights.

Mount Vernon recovered from a lackluster first quarter in which they mustered just seven points.

  Cimmino implored his bigs to quit fading away, to power up inside and take advantage of power baskets.

With their shots from outside the key rimming out, clanking off the back rim, and coming up well short throughout the first half, Mount Vernon didn’t have much of an alternative.

After Tucker laced a corner 3-pointer and Rexler Noel sliced through traffic for a layup, the Knights attacked with swarming pressure. That set the tone for the second half, when Mount Vernon's physicality and free throws closed the deal.