Spanish Springs was in control throughout the first half and took a 35-19 lead into the locker room at halftime. Unfortunately for fans of the hosts, the second half marked a colossal collapse.
Damonte Ranch exploded after halftime to outscore Spanish Springs 57-26. The bigger difference came in the final four minutes when Damonte Ranch turned a one-point lead into a 15-point win.
"Absolutely, their pressure was the difference in the game," Spanish Springs coach Kyle Penney said. "In the first half, we couldn't do anything wrong. Our timing was good and they weren't pressing because we had a big lead. They were pressing in the second half and it showed our lack of fundamental basketball. The reason people press is to make you play faster and it's getting old. We work on it every day in practice and we know it's coming."
While Damonte Ranch had rallied to take the lead, the game was still tight midway through the final period. Spanish Springs junior Brandon Delong dropped in a layup with 4:22 to go in the game that left the Cougars down by just one, 57-56.
The Mustangs proceeded to score 11 straight points over the next two minutes to take control of the game. A Lane Armstrong free throw capped the spurt with two minutes left, forging Damonte Ranch ahead 68-56.
Spanish Springs could get no closer than nine the rest of the way.
"I reminded our guys at halftime that we weren't getting anything in terms of transition offense," Damonte Ranch coach Torrey Sheets said. "We weren't getting anybody out in front of the basketball. We did a better job in the second half. And we were better defensively. Our effort in the first half was about a '6' and in the second half that fluctuated between a '9' and a '10.'
"We came out a little flat but we picked it up. We had a lot more energy in the second half. That's always helpful on the defense."
Damonte Ranch started its comeback in the third quarter. Trailing by 16 at the break, the Mustangs trimmed the SSHS edge to nine on a short jumper in the lane by point guard Matt Nuthall, who finished with a game-high 33 points.
"There's no doubt he's a good player and he's good going to his left, but we just don't do our assignments," Penney said. "We spend time scouting and breaking things down, but it doesn't do any good. When he went to his right, nothing happened. When he went to his left, the kid was unstoppable. His penetration burned us."
The margin was 11, 45-34, after the Cougars got a layup from an inbounds set with 3:58 showing on the third-quarter clock.
Damonte Ranch then reeled off a 16-5 run to deadlock the game at 50-50 following a pair of Jeff Turk free throws with 13 seconds left in the period.
Spanish Springs got a Delong runner just before the buzzer sounded on the third period for a 52-50 lead. However that was the Cougars' last lead of the night.
Damonte Ranch had blown up for 31 third-period points.
A 7-2 run to start the fourth quarter gave Damonte Ranch the advantage and it never trailed again.
In addition to Nuthall's 33 points, the Mustangs saw Turk and Armstrong contribute 18 and 15 points respectively to the winning cause.
The free-throw line played a big role in the Mustangs' win as well. The DRHS club got 44 attempts form the charity stripe (30 in the second half) and made 27 while Spanish Springs was limited to a 10-of-16 performance.
"They went to the foul line a lot in the second half," Penney said. "Our defense was much better in the first half in terms of our posts would help and recover. In the second half, it was help and stand and then Damonte would get offensive rebounds."
Through the first three-plus minutes of the game it looked like it would be a long night for Damonte Ranch (10-6, 4-4). Spanish Springs posted the first 12 points of the contest in that stretch.
The Cougars had a 20-10 lead after one period. Spanish Springs took an 18-point lead, 35-17, after Tyler Givani buried a trey from the wing with 25 seconds left before halftime. That was the local school's largest lead of the night.
Phil Smith scored 15 points and Delong added 11 to the Cougars' losing effort.
Spanish Springs (7-10, 4-4) returns to the hardwood Friday for a 7:30 p.m. game at High Desert League-leading Hug.