JAY — Spruce Mountain coach Scott Bessey stood there shaking his head and wondering why his team out of sorts in the first half Wednesday night.
But after Bessey shared his inspiring words with the undefeated Phoenix at halftime, Spruce Mountain played at more deliberate pace in the third quarter and eventually shook off the ornery Dirigo Cougars with a 58-35 win in a Mountain Valley Conference basketball game at the Phoenix Dome.
“The first half we had the jitters for some reason,” Bessey said. “We looked anxious. We looked nervous and I think we were trying to deliver a knockout punch early and we paid the price for it.
“People were going way to fast. They couldn’t hang on to the ball. We looked really nervous for whatever reason.
“We should have been confident. We should have been methodical, business like. I thought we came out and looked really inexperienced, which we are not. That was disappointing how we started.”
The Cougars were fierce inside the paint and gave the Phoenix a hard time even though Spruce held on to a 24-20 lead at halftime.
“We went back to the locker room and talked about it,” Bessey said. “They are too experienced and accomplished too much…to be performing that way.
“So we calmed down. We stopped playing some of the defenses that we were playing in the first half. We didn’t go to them because they were not working.”
The Phoenix got their act together after Bessey’s fireside chat and built a 43-28 lead with good defense and their speed. Spruce kept its momentum going in the fourth quarter and held Dirigo to seven points.
“We played well. We had a few mistakes at times, but I think it was closer than a 20-point game for sure,” Dirigo coach Travis Magnusson said. “We were there for awhile and they are a good shooting team.
“They hit a couple of bit 3’s right at the end of the third that kind of gave them separation and we missed a couple of layups, but we are right there.
“Like I told the guys, I really look at the process. I don’t really care about December. We are worried where we are in February. So we have to just get better every night. They did a good job. They are super disciplined. But we have to make sure we get the ball inside more. We are tough inside.”
Dirigo’s inside play was evident in the first half.
Dirigo took advantage of Spruce’s jitters and stayed right on the Phoenix’s heels throughout the first half.
Kayle Stewart led the Phoenix with 12 points and knocked down two 3-pointers. Sharpshooter Mason Shink followed with 11 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Andrew Shaw added his 10 points to the victory.
“I thought Kayle did very well in the second half,” Bessey said. “Brett (Frey), who was a maniac the first half, settled down and had a much solid half. The second half, he calmed down…. and behaved like a captain.”
Dirigo’s Cooper Chiasson was fierce inside and off the boards, scoring 12 points and went 8-for-10 at the free-throw line. Alex Gorham and Chase Clark each scored eight points.
Spruce Mountain’s Mason Shink tries to contain Dirigo’s Chase Clark (23) in a Mountain Valley Conference basketball game at the Phoenix Dome in Jay on Wednesday evening.Spruce Mountain’s Kayle Stewart (15) drives to the hoop as Dirigo’s Alex Gorham (30) tries to stop Stewart in a Mountain Valley Conference basketball game at the Phoenix Dome in Jay on Wednesday evening.Dirigo Cooper Chiasson (33) is fouled by Spruce Mountain’s Jordan Dangle (12) as teammate Andrew Shaw defends in a Mountain Valley Conference basketball game at the Phoenix Dome in Jay on Wednesday evening.