WINTHROP — Winthrop did everything humanly possible to derail Spruce Mountain, but the Phoenix wouldn’t budge and left the Ramblers’ court with a regular-season-ending, 53-45 Mountain Valley Conference boys basketball victory — and an undefeated 18-0 season on Thursday night.

Jace Bessey laid down a barrage of eight 3-pointers and tossed in the game-high 35 points, but he also knows all of his points were earned against Winthrop’s (14-4) staunch defense.

“I mean, their pressure is insane,” Bessey said. “It was really hard to get by (their pressure). (Owen Bryant) struggled to get the ball up the court and Ian (York) did great at bringing it up. They were on me the whole night. …

“That’s Winthrop for you. They are all about pressure. It is a defensive team.”

York opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer for the Phoenix, but it was a tooth-and-claw battle the rest of the way.

The teams got locked up in a 40-40 tie with 5:14 left in the game, but Bessey landed his specialty 3-pointer with 3:34 left to put the Phoenix ahead. Bessey dropped in another 3 and then drove to the basket for two points, giving the Phoenix a 48-42 lead. Bessey got the ball again and landed another 3-pointer and Spruce led 51-42 with 1:52 left.


“We actually sat in a 2-3 zone, where we have never gone — ever,” Bessey said. “Like we have never gone to a 2-3 zone, but it worked great.”

“I am a proud coach, first, because we needed all (of those points),” Spruce Mountain coach Scott Bessey said. “We have Camden Phillips, who just got hurt last night at Hall-Dale. Me and my assistant coaches were talking on the bus that Jace has been leading us in scoring, but it is going to have to be more without Camden. (Jace) was aggressive. He was looking for his shots.”

Phillips fractured his wrist and will be sidelined the rest of the postseason.

Scott Bessey doesn’t look at Winthrop as playing the role of spoiler of Spruce’s undefeated season.

“We didn’t look at this as the spoiler,” Bessey said. “Coming into this building is very, very, very difficult to win for a lot of reasons. To go in and beat Winthrop with six guys. We lost one of our top guys last night … so we are down to a six-man rotation. (Winthrop) had a day off yesterday. We played yesterday at Hall-Dale.

“Us coming in here and getting this win, there wasn’t no ‘we did what we were supposed to do.’ It was an upset. We had no business winning that game. I am so proud of (my team). It took every rebound. It took every possession where we didn’t turn it over against their pressure. It took everything we had.”


Winthrop senior guard Andrew Foster took his lumps underneath the hoop and emerged with the team-high 20 points. Junior guard Matt Beck helped the Ramblers’ cause with 12 points.

The Ramblers carried their momentum into the third quarter and moved ahead 33-27 right out of the gate.

But Winthrop’s shooting started to cool a bit and the Phoenix got back into it and tied the game at 33-33 with 2:53 left in the third quarter. Spruce concluded the third quarter with a 37-33 lead.

“That was our pregame talk, you know, to put one (loss) by their winning record,” Winthrop coach Todd MacAuthur said. “That’s a tough team, well-coached, incredible athletes and shot the lights out tonight — and we didn’t have an answer for that.

“So, we rely on our defense, and when a team shoots really well and starts to stretch us out, that’s when the defense goes from great to good. Hats off to them — heckuva team, heckuva of program — and I wish them the best of luck in the Class B tournament. I think the seedings for the tournament were already determined for both of us. So this was just a pride game. To be honest with you, it is a great prep for a tournament game.”

The Phoenix were holding a 17-8 advantage after the first quarter and extended their lead by another four points in the second quarter, but the Ramblers slowly closed in on the Phoenix in the second frame after Spruce’s shooting began to trickle to a stop.

Winthrop’s defense moved in and its press started giving the Ramblers some looks, and in the next three minutes they closed within two points as Foster drove to the net and made it a 22-20 game. Brayden Stubbert put the Ramblers ahead with his three-point play at 23-22 before the half ended with the Phoenix coming out on top with a 25-23 lead.

In the first quarter, the Phoenix had the run of the place and held the Ramblers to just eight points.

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