MONMOUTH — Spruce Mountain continued its trend of strong fourth quarters to earn a 51-40 win over Monmouth in a Mountain Valley Conference boys basketball contest Tuesday.

The Phoenix (3-0) entered the fourth trailing 34-30, but opened with an 11-0 run and outscored the Mustangs 21-6 in the period.

“It was toughness. It was all toughness,” Spruce Mountain sophomore guard Jace Bessey said. “For the first, second quarter, Monmouth, they were tougher. Then we hit it to them. We pressed, we were getting steals, they were driving into the paint, we were stripping at it (the ball), getting the ball in transition — that’s how we scored a lot, just getting the ball in transition — and we came together as a team.” 

In its 55-43 win over Carrabec on Thursday, Spruce Mountain entered the fourth trailing by one point then outscored the Cobras 17-4 in the final eight minutes of the game.

Although they already led 54-37 over Oak Hill after three quarters in the season opener, the Phoenix finished with a 15-2 fourth quarter in their 69-41 victory.

In three fourth quarters this season, they have scored 53 points and allowed only 12.


Spruce Mountain coach Scott Bessey attributes the fourth-quarter power-ups to the Phoenix being a young team with players trying to adapt to new roles and gain experience, which, in their case, leads to struggles in different stages of the first three quarters. Then something clicks in the fourth.

“For some reason, the last couple games, and even Oak Hill to an extent,” Scott Bessey said, “the fourth quarter comes and you can see their urgency, their body language — because Monmouth was the tougher team for three quarters, I mean, the mentally tougher team for three quarters, and by the end of that game I felt like we were. And that’s growth.”

In Tuesday’s fourth quarter, Ian York scored six of the 11 points and Jace Bessey had the other five in Spruce Mountain’s pivotal scoring spree.

York made a 3-pointer about a minute into the period to make it 34-33, and Bessey hit another trey a minute and a half later to put the Phoenix up 36-34. York added a three-point play and Bessey scored another basket to push the lead to 41-34.

Sammy Calder’s bucket with 3:40 remaining in the game finally ended the Mustangs’ (2-1) drought.

Freshman Cai Dougher (eight points) and Elie Timler each added a basket and Jace Bessey went 6 for 6 at the free throw line in the fourth to close out the victory.


“Jace knocking down every free throw, clutch free throw, that’s what you need from a point guard, you know, your starting point guard to have the ball in his hands, get fouled, go to the free throw line and put the game away,” Scott Bessey said. “And he made all of them, I was proud of him for that.”

Bessey finished with a game-high 25 points, including five 3-pointers.

“They shot really well. Everybody in this conference knows Jace Bessey is a hell of a shooter,” Monmouth coach Wade Morrill said, later adding: “He got loose on a couple transition 3s that really killed us. And that’s on us. When you got a shooter as good as Jace Bessey in the game, you can’t ever lose him. And everyone has to know, if you’re near him and he’s unguarded, you leave whoever you’re guarding to go guard him. It’s not rocket science, you got the best player in the gym and you got to go guard him. So, we’ve got to be better, bottom line. We’re nowhere near where we’d like to be defensively.”

Monmouth’s size advantage made scoring in the post difficult and 3-pointers crucial for the Phoenix. As a team, they made eight 3s and eight two-point field goals.

“We don’t have a lot (of size) this year,” Jace Bessey said. “We lost three seniors last year that were pretty big, so we have like one dominant big man, but we’re going to knock it down if they kick it out to the 3.”

York hit two of those treys and finished with 11 points.


Sammy Calder led Monmouth with 14 points, including the team’s only 3-pointer, and Hunter Frost scored 12.

Morrill said Monmouth made one of 17 shots from 3-point range. The Mustangs struggled shooting from just about everywhere in the second half and made only five field goals after halftime. Part of that was bad luck — several shots bounced in and out of the rim — but Morrill said Monmouth also lacked aggression.

“We did not shoot particularly well. We had some nice looks, we didn’t shoot well,” said Morrill, who a few times after the game took the blame for the loss. “But when you don’t shoot well, you go get rebounds, right? We weren’t doing that, either. Just very passive.”


The teams traded runs in the first half, the longest by the Mustangs as they built a double-digit lead.

After York opened the scoring with the game’s first basket, Monmouth scored six straight points. Spruce Mountain responded with seven consecutive points to take a 9-6 lead.


The Mustangs scored the final five points of the first quarter and the first 11 of the second — in all, a 16-0 run — to build a 22-9 advantage with about six minutes remaining in the half.

Bessey ended Monmouth’s 16-point spurt with the second of his three first-half 3-pointers.

The Mustangs led 26-17 with about two minutes left in the second and decided to hold the ball to drain the clock for the final shot, but the Phoenix got the ball back and Bessey hit a pull-up 3 that beat the buzzer and cut Monmouth’s lead to 26-20 at halftime.

“They tried to milk it for the last shot, and then turned it over, and then to come down and score, that was a huge momentum shift,” Scott Bessey said.

He added, however, that the Phoenix didn’t take advantage of that momentum shift in the third quarter.

They chipped away at Monmouth’s lead in the third quarter, and Lucas Tower’s 3 with about two minutes remaining got the Phoenix to within one point, 31-30. But two free throws by Frost and one by Isaac Oliveira gave the Mustangs a four-point lead heading into the final period.

“We did get it to within one, then we give up three offensive rebounds in a row,” Scott Bessey said.

Both coaches pointed out several of their team’s shortcomings and areas in which their squads need to improve. That is to be expected only three games into the season. Scott Bessey also acknowledged that winning while growing into new, expanded roles is helpful to the Phoenix.

“Those are the types of games we need right now,” he said. “We need to grind out wins while we get to practice every day, just get more comfortable playing with each other, and roles. Yeah, I’m pumped.”

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