He certainly wasn’t playing like one.
The 6-foot-4 youngster scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half to lift the Vikings to a 42-39 win over Appalachia in front of a packed house.
Powell Valley (21-2) will head into next week’s Region D, Division 2 bracket as either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed.
“It was a team effort, it wasn’t just me. Our whole team deserves this,” said Vernon, the first freshman to earn an LPD tournament MVP trophy since Appalachia’s Forrest Stuart did it two seasons ago.
Stuart, a junior, was by no means invisible. He scored 18 points and collected seven rebounds for the Bulldogs (20-4) despite being shadowed by Powell Valley’s Ryan Hubbard. On defense, Stuart was a scrapping, leaping, pass-altering dynamo.
But that wasn’t enough to carry Appalachia to a district tourney three-peat. The Bulldogs’ intensity burned a bit too brightly at the expense of execution toward the end. They shot 0-for-12 from 3-point range and 29 percent from the field overall — a statistic epitomized by their struggle to find the hole during the tense final minute of play.
“We couldn’t make anything down at the end and they made some shots. We lost our composure a little bit and were fighting amongst ourselves,” said Appalachia coach Pat Jervis, whose squad is the likely third seed to the Division 1 bracket.
“That didn’t lose the game, but it’s been a deal with us. Our kids play with a lot of emotion and the style of defense we play ... the scramble and halfcourt trap and the press ... we give it all we got.”
Even though the Bulldogs weren’t shooting well in the first half, they had the defensive effort under control. The Vikings scored only two points the entire second quarter and trailed 23-14 at the half.
“We talked at halftime about getting some stops and getting some good possessions. We were turning the ball over way too much the first half to give ourselves a chance,” said Powell Valley coach Zack Moore.
“We talked about throwing it inside more and felt that we had an advantage with (Vernon). Every time he gets the ball in the post, I feel good he’s going to get up and score or get fouled. And he did that a lot, and sometimes both.”
Vernon proved a dangerous shooter from any spot inside the arc and debuted several impressive moves underneath. His three-point play with 7:08 left in the fourth quarter finally locked up the game at 29. He writhed through the paint to put Powell Valley up 31-29 with 5:24 remaining.
Post Sam Vaughn had six points and nine rebounds for the Vikings, always poised to make Appalachia’s defense pay for too much focus on Vernon.
Tyler “Stick” Garrison, who scored 10 points for Powell Valley while being hounded by Appalachia’s Mason Stuart, got a steal and breakaway layup for the 36-35 permanent go-ahead with 2:35 left to play.
Tyler Hall’s inside bucket cut Powell Valley’s lead to 40-37 with 41 seconds remaining. Ryan Hubbard’s transition layup off a long Vaughn assist made it 42-37 at the 35-second mark.
The Bulldogs couldn’t buy a 3. Sebastian Mahro’s crestfallen stickback as time expired ended the session.
In the consolation game, Alex Couch scored 14 points and J.J. Kelly outlasted Pound 51-37. C.J. Shortt and Dillon Clark scored nine points apiece for the Indians (13-11), who hit one field goal the entire second half.
Josh Lowe scored 12 points to pace Pound (8-19), which will go into the Division 1 bracket as a No. 6 or No. 7 seed.
“I was pleased with our defensive effort. It was an ugly game. We’ve not shot well all week. But I thought we played efficient tonight,” said J.J. Kelly coach T.J. McAmis, whose squad could be seeded as high as No. 5 in the Division 2 bracket.