JAY — Spruce Mountain had a long range prayer to reach overtime against Lincoln after trailing by double digits midway through the fourth quarter on Tuesday night.

When that shot at the horn didn’t fall in, sealing the Eagles’ 52-49 KVAC Class B boys’ basketball victory at the Phoenix Dome, Spruce Mountain coach Scott Bessey couldn’t help but think the hoop gods had a say in it.

“We didn’t deserve to have a shot at the end,” Bessey said. “We struggle with leadership, we struggle with mental toughness, and we have all year.”

The Phoenix (6-6) gave away a seven-point lead in the first half more quickly than you can say “composure” and couldn’t dig out of the hole against the Eagles (6-7), who shot 62 percent after the opening period and 57 percent overall.

Riley Cushing scored 15 of his game-high 17 points in the second half to lead Lincoln, which avenged a 10-point home loss from December. Taylor Holmes had 12 of his 16 points in the first half, and most of Cody Tozier’s 13 came in an early flurry of 3-pointers that put the Eagles in command.

Lincoln never trailed after Tozier’s third triple with 5:41 remaining in the second quarter.

“We gained a little space. I thought we handled their pressure for the most part pretty well,” Lincoln coach Ryan Ball said. “In the fourth quarter they gave us some issues, because our kids got a little antsy. But I thought our defense was the difference.”

Austin Darling paced the Phoenix with 15 points. Noah Preble added 13. Spruce Mountain connected from the floor at a frosty 29 percent.

Caulin Parker canned two free throws after an intentional foul to slice Spruce Mountain’s deficit to 34-32 at 3:13 of the third. The Phoenix couldn’t take advantage of the ensuing possession, however, and Lincoln rattled off seven points without a reply.

Kayden Leeman nailed a 3-pointer. Cushing connected twice off dishes from Kobe Lincoln and Holmes.

Lincoln trailed 10-3 out of the chute before luring Spruce Mountain into a half-court game with efficiency at one end and zone defense at the other.

“We were getting a feel for them. I was concerned their penetration still got the best of us in the first quarter a little bit, and we were able to adjust and do what we wanted to do,” Ball said.

The lead crested at 49-39 after Cushing and Holmes sank four consecutive free throws, the second pair coming with 4:21 left.

Spruce quickly rallied on a 3-pointer by Andrew Darling and three free throws after Preble was fouled behind the arc. The Eagles immediately responded with a beautiful possession out of their motion set, capped by Lincoln’s dish to Cushing for an easy two.

“It’s never going to be a skill or talent thing with us. I don’t think there’s been a team this year more talented or more skillful,” Bessey said. “Tonight the first sign of resistance, we weren’t going to blow this team out, a couple calls go against us and we had kids quit. It was an uphill battle from there.”

The Phoenix wasted a pair of chances to get within two after steals by Austin Darling and Parker. Lincoln missed two free throws prior to Andrew Darling’s drive with 11 seconds left, and Nathan Masters knocked down only one of two from the line to leave the door ajar with 6.8 ticks remaining.

Andrew Darling’s 23-foot offering from in front of the Spruce Mountain bench brushed off the front of the rim as time expired.

“Lincoln Academy played awesome. It was because of them that all that stuff happened,” Bessey said. “It’s easy to play hard when everything’s going your way. When things start going against you, to have the effort level drop, you’re going to lose. You can’t win when that happens. That’s when you need that leadership beyond me. Until that changes, it’s going to be a quick season.”

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