JAY — Monmouth Academy boys basketball coach Wade Morrill gladly accepted the Heal points his Mustangs received from Tuesday night’s 44-40 win over a very short-handed Spruce Mountain.

Morrill, though, would have a bone to pick with anyone who suggests his team could also take away style points from the win.

“We’re leaving here under no illusions that we beat a full-strength Spruce Mountain team,” Morrill said.

“To be honest with you, I think they were the better team tonight,” he added. “Heal points are Heal points, though, and (beating a Class B school) does help us.”

Morrill had good reason to praise the host Phoenix (8-2), who suited up only eight players after a season-long rash of injuries was made worse when two starters, brothers Jack and Owen Bryant, were sidelined by the flu.

The Class C Mustangs (6-2) ultimately wore down the Phoenix thanks to some big plays early in the fourth quarter and later down the stretch by Cam Armstrong and Hayden Fletcher.

Gabe Martin finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds while Armstrong added 11 and seven off the bench for Monmouth. Brandon Frey led Spruce and all scorers with 28 points. Freshman Elie Timler added eight points and six rebounds.

“I think Brandon felt the pressure of having to do a lot (with much of the offense sidelined),” Phoenix coach Scott Bessey said. “He was great. Timler played great. Those were his first varsity minutes of the season, and he played every one of them.”

Four of Spruce Mountain’s five starters played the entire game, and the fifth, Frey, sat down for a couple of minutes in the first half due to foul trouble.

Frey returned from his brief stint on the bench in time to give the Phoenix a 20-18 lead. Armstrong’s putback beat the halftime buzzer to tie it at 20-20.

Martin’s 3-pointer early in the third quarter made it 27-24 and put the Mustangs in front to stay. The Phoenix were able to stay within a possession or two throughout the quarter because they took very good care of the ball (four turnovers for the game) and got the ball into Frey’s hands for 11 points in the quarter

A 3-pointer by Fletcher and two short jumpers by Armstrong to start the fourth quarter gave the Mustangs their largest lead of the night at 43-34.

“Cam Armstrong played tough and stepped up nicely for us,” Morrill said. “I thought the difference in the game near the end was our ability to rebound. We got a big offensive rebound off a missed free throw and were able to burn some time off the clock.”

That allowed the Mustangs to hold off one charge led by Frey, who scored the next seven points and pulled the Phoenix within three points with a little more than three minutes left, but they never got closer. Their last chance to tie it came with 10 seconds left when a fatigued Frey front-rimmed a shot from the corner and Fletcher hauled in the rebound before making the free throw that made it a two-possession game with 8.9 seconds left.

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