JAY — Players and fans would love to win every game by 15 points. Coaches, on the other hand, are pathological realists.
That’s why Spruce Mountain coach Chris Bessey didn’t mind seeing his young team deal with a little adversity Thursday night. The Phoenix nearly squandered a 15-point lead, then recovered by making some big shots down the stretch to hold off St. Dom’s, 47-41.
Scottie Hall’s 3-pointer, his only points of the game, and Peter Theriault’s press-breaking layup inside the final minute pulled the Phoenix out of the fire.
“It’s characteristic of a team that’s not really experienced. You go through those ups and downs,” said Bessey, who had a freshman, four sophomores and three juniors in his 10-man rotation. “We’re trying to preach being more consistent, and we really easily could have been up more than we were. We showed a lot, to have a lead then have it get to within one possession of losing it and being able to withstand that.”
Sophomores Peter Theriault, Deonte Ring and Anthony York led the Phoenix (4-3) with nine points apiece. The Saints (2-3) also distributed their scoring evenly, with Michael Bryant, Matt Dyer and Eric Ulin scoring 10 points each to lead the way.
St. Dom’s trailed by 13 at halftime and 15 early in the third quarter before Ulin (eight rebounds) snapped its 0-for-21 shooting slump that stretched all the way back to the first quarter with a foul-line jumper nearly three minutes into the second half.
“We talked at halftime about coming up and getting a stop-and-score, stop-and-score, trying to get the lead to 20 early to try to put them away early,” Bessey said. “We got the stops. We just didn’t get the scores, even though we had good looks.”
The Saints trailed by 11 after three, then started the fourth with a 13-4 run, sparked by a jumper and a steal and layup by Dyer. Another steal and layup by Bryant pulled them within two with 2:40 remaining.
That was as close as they would get. Ring made it a four-point game again with a nice ball fake then drive to the basket. After Zak Johsnon’s 3-point attempt rimmed in-and-out for the Saints, freshman Andrew Darling extended the lead to six with a pair of free throws with 1:16 remaining.
Bryant made it a one-possession game again with a 3-pointer with a minute left, but Hall responded with a deep 3-pointer with 51 seconds to go.
“I told him after the fact the only reason it’s a good shot is because you made it,” Bessey said. “If you didn’t, you may have heard from me.”
The Saints were heard from again, though. Johnson’s 3-pointer found nothing but net to make it 44-41 with 30 seconds left. But Theriault split the Saints’ press for a layup with contact, then sank the subsequent free throw to finally put the pesky visitors away with 21 seconds to go.
Theriault and the Phoenix carved up the Saints’ full-court zone trap for much of the first half to build a 17-10 lead at the end of the first quarter, then clamped down defensively to hold St. Dom’s without a field goal in the second quarter for the 13-point halftime cushion.
“We knew coming in that they might press. We haven’t really worked on it a lot because a lot of teams really don’t press that much,” Bessey said.
“They handled (the press). Once they got out of the trap, they scored on it,” St. Dom’s coach Todd Flaherty said. “I was too slow to get out of it. That’s been good to us this year. But I think we proved to ourselves that we can sit down and play half-court man-to-man defense, too.”
Spruce’s matchup zone gave the Saints problems, too, forcing eight turnovers in the second quarter to augment their shooting woes.