JAY — Spruce Mountain senior guard Austin Darling always draws a crowd when he drives to the hoop.

But when Darling couldn’t get to the net, he would send the ball out to the perimeter, allowing the Phoenix (13-3) to open up from the outside. Either way, Spruce found away to score and jettisoned Mt. Blue in a 70-45 victory inboys’ basketball at a packed Phoenix Dome on Thursday night.

“The last three weeks I have been very comfortable with my game and my team and knowing that if there is nothing in the lane, I can kick it out,” Darling said. “We just played better offensively and worked better as a team defensively.

“Cameron Mitchell — he doesn’t play much, but he came and started for us because Caulin (Parker) is injured. He did an excellent job and came out with two threes. That’s what we need. Keep winning and we love it.”

Darling’s strolls down the lane and some fine perimeter shooting gave him the game-high 22 points for night. The senior got some strong help from the bench and senior forward Noah Preble’s 17 points.

The last time the teams squared off, the Cougars (1-15) had Phoenix by the shirttails, but Thursday night was a different story under the dome.

“I think that night up there they were great. They were fantastic,” Spruce Mountain coach Scott Bessey said. “Their shots they hit up there they were unable to hit down here. I think we had something to do with it.

“Our energy level was a lot better tonight than it was up there. That’s how we need to play. I felt the bench was a lot better here than up there. We didn’t get much from our bench at all. I think our whole team played better. I think being at home helps. Being in our gym helps. I was pleased how we played.

“I think our perimeter play helps that. The threat of Noah, the threat of Mason (Shink) and Brett (Frey) hitting threes, because they are really good 3-point shooters. Their defenders have to play close to them, which opens it up for Austin. That’s kind of how we like to play offense. Spread it and spread it, and if Austin gets to the rim, then they have to help, and then we can kick it out to the threes.”

By halftime, the Phoenix held a 35-18 lead. But in the third quarter, the Cougars started creeping back. Mt. Blue’s second-half charge wasn’t enough to foil the Phoenix and Spruce still led 53-34 going into the fourth quarter.

Mt. Blue’s Coop Hollingsworth, who was a force underneath, scored 11 points.

“Spruce played well,” Mt. Blue coach Brian Kelly said. “Cameron Mitchell — I love that kid. I coached him when was a freshman and coming out and hitting those first two threes, it was big.

“He does have a good set shot. I am most pleased at how my team played in the third quarter. I said to them if we played four quarters, I don’t think anybody would hanging their heads today.

“Spruce has been kind of down and they really need this one today. They had a rough last week.” 

Spruce Mountain Nick Lombardi (13) pulls down a rebound as Mt. Blue’s Caleb Hall (23) and Cooper Hollingsworth (34) surround Lombardi in basketball game in Jay on Thursday.Spruce Mountain’s Noah Preble (30) goes up for a shot as teammate Nick Lombardi (13), Mt Blue’s Makao Thomspon (3) and Marshall Doyon (20) look on during a basketball game in Jay on Thursday.Spruce Mountain senior guard Austin Darling drives to the basket as Mt. Blue’s Garrett Reynolds (5) watches in a basketball game in Jay on Thursday.Fans watch a basketball game between Spruce Mountain and Mt. Blue in Jay on Thursday night.Spruce Mountain’s Austin Darling (5) and teammate Cameron Mitchell try to stop Mt. Blue’s Caleb Hall (23) from scoring in a basketball game in Jay on Thursday.

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