By Justin Whitaker
GREENCASTLE — A loss is hard, no matter how it happens.
When you’re leading at halftime, trading blows with the top-ranked team in Class 3A in the regional, and lose — it’s really tough.
Danville went down swinging to the No. 1-ranked Mount Vernon Marauders 56-41 in the opening game of the Greencastle regional Saturday. It was an emotionally charged, momentum-swinging contest that saw the game much closer than the final score read.
“Mount Vernon is a solid team,” Danville coach Brian Barber said. “They don’t have any weaknesses. They did a good job and it just wasn’t meant to be for us today.”
The Warriors led 21-20 at intermission before losing ground in the second half and being eliminated from the postseason.
“It just doesn’t feel real yet. It hasn’t hit me,” Danville senior Ian Asher said. “By the time I try and walk to practice Monday is when it’s probably going to hit me. As of now, I feel like it was a tough one but I still feel like we’re going to bounce back and go play another game. The reality of it is, we are not.”
Barber expected Saturday morning’s contest to be a battle between two contrasting styles of play and it was. Danville looked to speed up the game and Mount Vernon tried to keep a slower pace. Unfortunately for the Warriors, they lost out on that battle.
“The tempo was played at their pace,” Barber said. “We wanted to be more up tempo and they did a good job of not letting us get out and run like we wanted to do.”
The times in the game when Danville did run, were when they had success.
In the second quarter, a Scott Amor 3-pointer started a quick 10-0 Warrior run. Asher was fouled on a three-point attempt and made all of his free throws. Avery Motes tipped in a layup and Asher added two of his team-high 16 points on a jumper from the elbow. The Warriors then led 19-15 with 1:22 remaining in the half.
“We were able to get loose there, get the ball down the floor and get the lanes filled,” Barber said. “A big part of our offense is scoring in transition. We have a lot of transition guys. It just seemed like a majority of the game was played in the half court. Whether it was their end or our end.”
In the third quarter, the Marauders outscored the Warriors, 18-6. Danville turned the ball over five times and shot 2 of 10 in the quarter.
Senior Jackson Stone provided a nice two-play stretch for the Warriors when he took a charge on the defensive end and responded immediately with a layup to cut Mount Vernon’s lead to two at 25-23.
The five Warrior turnovers in the quarter at inopportune times though helped the Marauders score 11 unanswered points and take control of the contest.
“Those are moments in games against teams like Mount Vernon that you can’t have,” Barber said. “Every possession means something. That was a good little run by them and we were never able to get over the hump really.”
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Motes and Asher cut the lead to seven at 42-35 in the fourth quarter, but Danville was never able to get any closer.
“If we could have got a bucket or so right there, now it’s a couple possession game and maybe it’s a little different,” Barber said. “Everything is tough in the regional.”
Mount Vernon shot a whopping 43 free throws in the second half as C.J. Just, Amor, Motes, and Asher all fouled out. The Marauders connected on 27 of their 43 attempts in the final two periods and Danville shot only nine times in the game.
Danville graduates seven seniors, the most that Barber has ever had, from this year’s 18-6 team.
“It’s sad. I love these guys. These four years have been amazing,” Motes said. “I love our coaching staff, I love all these guys I played with. The season was great and all four years were great. I couldn’t thank the coaches more.”
The seven seniors are Amor, Just, Motes, Asher, Stone, Tyler Ross, and B’ster Detty.
“This year they all had experience and they all played in big games,” Barber said. “Ian moved in and we had our whole nucleus, he kind of brought everything together. It was just a lot of fun this year. We didn’t have any controversies, the guys gelled all year, practice was fun, and we just kept getting better and better. Those are the kind of seasons you love to have. It was a very good year for the Warriors.”
Motes has been a three-year varsity basketball player and a guard that Barber calls a throwback.
“He’s a hard-nosed guy, hard worker, gym rat, kind of old-school type player,” Barber said. “He’s a very talented player and he gets a lot of his stuff just outworking other people. He set a great example for our younger guys of how hard you have to work.”
Motes and Asher provided a strong 1-2 scoring punch that combined for over 32 points per game. Asher moved back to Danville this season giving Motes a friend both on and off the court.
“Having Ian back was great,” Motes said. “He’s a heck of a player and he’s one of the best friends I have.”
“He’s my best buddy,” Asher said. “I’m glad that I got to spend it with him and I wish that I could be on the court again with him.”