PORTLAND — Free-throw shooting is an elementary skill that most players learn from the moment they touch a basketball.
And it has the power to define a game at any level.
Especially at tournament time.
After both teams struggled from the line early in Saturday’s Western Class B quarterfinal tilt at the Portland Expo, Spruce Mountain started hitting its freebies. Wells did not.
The No. 2 Phoenix pulled away in the second quarter and never looked back, posting a 63-34 victory over No. 7 Wells.
“We were missing early. I think we missed five foul shots in the first,” Spruce Mountain coach Chris Bessey said. “I think after he hit those, and we went on a nine-for-nine run, that gave us some confidence and some of the other shots started dropping.”
“We are a better free-throw shooting team than that. I don’t know what happened out there,” Wells coach Troy Brown said. “We were getting to the rim, and getting some fouls called, but we just couldn’t knock them down. Next thing you know, it’s four, six, eight points down and we missed some golden opportunities.”
The game turned in the second on a four-point play. James Barker earned a pair of free throws, and was awarded another pair on a technical foul called on Wells. He hit all four shots to put the Phoenix in front by double digits.
“That was huge, we had a lot of guys that stepped up today,” Spruce Mountain’s Zack Bonnevie said.
The other spark for Spruce Mountain came from Bonnevie, who heated up in the second quarter and took over in the second half, finishing with a game-high 19 points on 5-for-8 shooting with seven free throws.
“We just wanted to come out strong and not let up,” Bonnevie said. “In a lot of games, the third quarter’s been a little weak for us. We wanted to make sure that didn’t happen.”
Trevin Dunlop chipped in with 13, and Jake Bessey and Barker added 10 each.
The Phoenix led by 14 at the half, and Wells thought it might be able to creep back into the contest with a few early buckets.
Instead, Spruce Mountain scored the first seven points of the third frame and pulled away.
“That was a big, big turn of events right there,” Brown said. “When we talked about it at halftime, it was, ‘Hey, we need to creep back into this in the first three minutes.’ We turn around and in the first minute, they increase the lead on us.”
“We wanted to finish. We wanted to get some respect around here,” Bonnevie said.
And every time after that Wells started to put a run together, the Phoenix used their bodies well, drawing charge after charge. Barker led in that department, too, with six.
“He took a lot of those,” Jake Bessey said. “He’s going to be sore tomorrow, but that was huge for us.”