The Phoenix had built a 16-point lead in the first half but before the second half was barely a minute old, Monmouth was within five.
“I’m really pleased with the way we responded,” Spruce Mountain coach Gavin Kane said. “We came out of the locker room a little flat. That seems to be a tendency of ours recently.”
Spruce Mountain answered that Mustang run with a surge of its own. The Phoenix outscored Monmouth 13-4 over the next six minutes. That replenished the lead in a 53-35 win in a battle of two of the top Mountain Valley Conference teams.
“We knew we kind of let down and we knew we had to get the intensity back up,” guard Nicole Hamblin said.
Hamblin finished with a game-high 22 points while Kailee Newcomb added 14 points and five assists. Samantha Richards added nine points and seven rebounds. Monmouth (7-2) got 18 from Sierra Spencer.
“It seems like the same thing happened in the Madison game,” Monmouth coach Scott Wing said. “We started to make a little bit of a run. We got that one shot to fall that changed the momentum, but then I think we just had used so much energy.”
Down 29-18 at the half, Monmouth scored six in a row to open the third. Spencer scored on a three-point play and then drilled a trey in the first minute to rally the Mustangs. The Phoenix answered that with a pair of baskets in the paint by Richards. After another Spencer 3 made it 33-27 with 4:30 left, Richards scored off a Hamblin feed. Daisi Poole sank a pair of free throws to get Monmouth within six again, but the Mustangs would never get any closer. A Newcomb drive became a three-point play. Then Hamblin hit a short jumper. Newcomb added two free throws for a 42-29 lead.
“We knew (Spencer) was a really good shooter,” Hamblin said. “We had to play good defense and keep the pressure up.”
Monmouth got within 10 in the fourth but six points from Hamblin preserved the lead.
“The first quarter was really good,” Hamblin said. “When we came out after halftime we were a little bit off. We knew we had to keep it up because they were getting closer.”
The Phoenix (10-0) used a zone defense to hamper the Mustang attack. It forced Monmouth to shoot from the perimeter. Though Spencer had four 3’s, the Mustangs still struggled from the floor at times. The Mustangs finished 12-for-36 from the floor with nearly 30 turnovers.
“I was pleased with our 1-3-1 defense,” Kane said. “We don’t play a lot of zone. A big part of Monmouth’s offense is putting the ball to the floor and going to the hole. They’re a team that gets to the foul line a lot too. I thought the zone really limited their penetration.”
The Mustangs struggled to get the offense going early. Monmouth shot just 3-for-6 in the first quarter and had 11 turnovers. Spruce Mountain turned that into an 18-8 lead.
“We struggled,” said Wing. “We ran one set offense against it and then we switched to another set offense. It opened things up a little bit and got them moving. That’s what started getting us better looks.”
The Phoenix also battled foul trouble when three regulars picked up a pair in the first quarter. The team was already missing starter Victoria Ouellette to injury. That forced Kane to go to the bench. Players like LaDesta Tracy, Amanda Castonguay, Amia Pelletier and Rylee Moore all came off the bench and contributed.
“I really felt we had a solid first half,” said Kane. “The kids played well without Victoria and Sam getting into foul trouble. We had to go with a pretty small lineup. A lot of kids did a nice job for us.”
Hamblin hit a few outside shots to preserve the lead in the second, but Monmouth scored seven straight late in the half to get within 29-18 at halftime.