Spanish Springs players felt a little bit better after the most recent meeting, a 43-42 Cougars home in a DI North crossover league contest Tuesday night.
The win keeps Spanish Springs' slim High Desert League championship hopes alive and leaves them in the driver's seat to earn at least a No. 2 playoff seed and a first-round home playoff game. The Cougars (14-9, 9-4) currently sit in second place in the HDL, two games behind league-leader Reed (11-2 HDL) and a game ahead of third-place Reno (8-5), a 68-52 loser to Bishop Manogue Tuesday.
"We needed this one fore sure," said Spanish Springs coach Kyle Penney, whose team was coming off back-to-back league losses. "We just haven't been able to get over the hump recently. All these games are big for us. emotionally, and physically. They've all been tough."
On Tuesday, Carson jumped out to a 16-9 advantage after the first period and did not relinquish the lead until five minutes were left in the game. Back-to-back Kenny Meyer layups gave Spanish Springs its first lead of the night, 37-36 with 5:05 remaining in the matchup.
Meyer then made a pair of foul shots to give the SSHS cagers a 39-36 lead midway through the final period. Carson answered with a pair of buckets to forge ahead 40-39 at the 1:25 mark of the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for the Capital City school, that was its final lead of the night.
Meyer was fouled on a drive and with Carson in the foul penalty, he was awarded a pair of foul shots. He calmly stepped to the free-throw line and knocked two down, putting the hosts on top 41-40.
Next Carson turned the ball over trying to toe the sideline against full-court Spanish Springs pressure. It didn't matter as Spanish Springs returned the favor with a turnover of its own, failing to get the ball in-bounded within five seconds.
The Spanish Springs defense then forced another Carson turnover, picking a Senators player in the open court and leading to a Cougars breakaway that saw Dupree Kness can two foul shots with 29 seconds remaining on the game clock.
"Turnovers for sure, that's what hurt us," Carson coach Carlos Mendeguia said. "In league play, at Spanish Springs, you can't turn the ball over the way we did and we did it quite a bit tonight."
After a potential game-tying Carson trey drew iron and rimmed off long, the Senators got a putback from Cameron Price to account of the final margin. Spanish Spring got the ball in bounds and ran off the final seven seconds to secure the triumph.
"We didn't rebound but we played pretty good defense," Penney said. "Hunter Pinto did a great job in the second half on Steele ... We gave up eight offensive rebounds in the first half and they scored on six of them. That's 12 points and we only gave up 42. So we were pretty solid defensively."
Meyer led the Spanish Springs offensive attack, pouring in a game-high 29 points. He made good on 8-of-15 shot attempts, including a pair of 3-pointers, and buried 11-of-12 free throws. Only five other Cougars scored in the nailbiter and none had more than seven.
"We're going to need other guys to step up and Kenny's going to need to help other guys get open by the way teams put a defensive emphasis on him," Penney said. "But he is key for us and he has been all season. We're going to need him."
The Cougars overcame a 13-of-37 (35 percent) shooting performance to snatch the victory. They helped their cause by only turning the ball over nine times and draining 15-of-18 attempts at the charity stripe.
Kyle Steele was the lone Senators player to find double digits in the scoring column, finishing with 10 points in defeat. However, he did not score in the second half
"Every time we play them it seemingly goes right down to the final seconds," Mendeguia said. "Any time you play a Coach Penney team, it's going to be a dogfight. Every possession counts against a team like them with so much experience and toughness."
Carson (7-6 SL), which has now lost four consecutive conference clashes, took its early 16-9 lead by closing the first period on a modest 7-2 spurt. It's lead was still seven, 21-14, three-plus minutes into the second quarter. The Cougars responded by scoring eight of the next 10 points, trimming Carson's lead to 23-22. The guests still took a 27-22 lead into the locker room at the break.
Spanish Springs outscored Carson 9-7 in the third quarter to get within three, 34-31, heading to the final eight minutes. The Cougars could have had the game under control by that point but missed five layups in the period -- three in the first 90 seconds after halftime.
"That's taxing on you mentally," Penney said of the easy missed scoring opportunities. "When you do that, you really have to have the toughness to grind it out defensively and our kids did that. Carson runs its offense well. They are crisp and fundamental and a great passing team. They're scary to play when you're down, but once we got the lead we were able to relax a little bit and play more loose."
The SSHS gang will play its final regular season home game of the 2013-14 campaign on Friday night against HDL rival Hug. A win would leave the Cougars with a perfect 10-0 record on their home court, the first time in program history they'd finished a season undefeated on their home floor.