McQueen, which only led once in the conference clash (4-2), is fighting for its playoff life. The Lancers played like it for good chunks of Tuesday's tilt, but could not overcome the Cougars' tell-tale second-half run. McQueen got to within a point, 33-32, after Bryce Harnack knocked down a short baseline jumper with 3:42 to go in the third period ... And that's when the wheels fell off the Lancers' wagon.
Spanish Springs responded by ripping off its string of 19-straight points over a stretch of seven and a half minutes. Senior point guard Kenny Meyer contributed 11 points in the key SSHS surge.
"Honestly, what really happened is, Kenny came back after some foul trouble," McQueen coach John Franklin said. "We went on a little run. Then he got going, hit a couple threes and settled everything down for them. They just did a great job of answering our runs all night."
Meyer posted a game-high 24 points. He finished 6-of-14 shooting from the field, but helped his offensive numbers by draining 10-of-11 free throws.
Spanish Springs coach Kyle Penney was pleased to see his standout guard find different ways to put the ball in the hole, but he pointed to crisp execution as the biggest reason for his team's pivotal run that bridged the third and fourth periods.
"Kenny is good. There's no doubt about that, and he and can still get better," Penny said. "He's going to get better. But we executed really well in that stretch. Kenny hit two threes, one coming out of a timeout, which we talked about and designed. We got the ball to the right people at the right time in the right spots."
Hunter Pinto wrapped up the Spanish Springs' string with a transition layup at the 4:07 mark of the final quarter. The bucket saw the Cougars forge ahead 52-32.
McQueen scored the next eight points to claw back to within 12, 52-40, with 2:40 left in the contest, but the damage had been done. The Lancers got a corner trey from Rian Narra with 17 seconds to go in the game, accounting for the final 11-point margin. That was as close as McQueen got following the Cougars' 19-point outburst.
"I thought our guys fought hard. We just didn't have enough tonight to get over the hump," Franklin said. "We had a couple key guys we count on who didn't play exceptionally well. We needed some other guys to step up, and a few did, but we didn't have enough to beat a good team like Spanish Springs."
The SSHS win, coupled with Reed's romp over North Valleys Tuesday night, locks Spanish Springs (16-9, 11-4) into the HDL's No. 2 playoff seed, meaning the Cougars will host a first-round playoff game Feb. 19 at 7 p.m.
McQueen (7-17, 4-11) must beat Reno Friday and needs North Valleys to lose to Hug Friday to earn a postseason berth. Any other scenario will leave the MHS cagers out of the playoff mix.
The visiting Cougars got off to a stellar start, building a 19-8 lead with just over a minute to go in the first period, following a Garrett Nauman layup. The guests held a 12-point edge, 27-15, after Brandon Barlow dropped in a bucket at the 3:48 mark of the second quarter.
The Cougars got a little sloppy into the halftime break. In one stretch, they turned the ball over on five straight possessions. McQueen took advantage, putting together a 10-0 run and trimming the Spanish Springs advantage to 27-25 with 9 ticks remaining before the intermission.
The Cougars stopped the bleeding a bit when Hunter Fralick made 1-of-2 free throws in the waning seconds of the first half. He then corralled the basketball off his own missed foul shot and put it back for a bucket as time expired on the second quarter, leaving Spanish Springs on top 30-25.
Fralick and Dupree Kness both chipped in nine points toward the Sparks schools' winning cause, but Meyer was the lone Cougar to finish in double digits in the scoring column.
Spanish Springs helped its performance by shooting a sterling 22-of-38 (58 percent) from the field. Outside of Meyer, the rest of the SSHS roster converted 16-of-24 (67 percent) field-goal tries. The accurate shooting night helped the Cougars overcome the negative impact of 28 turnovers.
"We actually turned it over a lot, but luckily we forced a lot as well," said Penney, who stressed his team's ability to respond to everything McQueen threw at it was crucial. "Absolutely, that was huge, especially on the road. That shows some toughness. We talk a lot about that and it goes back to our standard of play. The kids have to hold themselves to that and the coaches do too. For them to answer every time, that says a lot about our kids."
Narra scored 16 points to pace McQueen offensively while Lucas Weber and Tyrell Minor added 11 and 10 points respectively for the Lancers in defeat.
Tuesday's win gave Spanish Springs its first season sweep of McQueen since the 2008-09 season. That's all the last time the Cougars won on the Lancers' home court, having dropped four straight at MHS.
"That's a tough place to play. We haven't played well there recently," Penney said. "We had to get off to good start. We knew coming in they had a lot to play for themselves. It was good we got off to a good start and defended early on."
Spanish Springs puts the finishing touches on its regular season when it goes to Reed for a rivalry affair Friday at 7 p.m. The Cougars won the first go-round 36-33 on their home floor and will be looking for a rare sweep of their cross-town foes.