After losing its first game at the Next Level Hoops Fest in Nashville on Dec. 29, Mentor had its back against the wall in a big way in Game 2 vs. Episcopal Collegiate School (Ark).
Down 16 in the first quarter, it was either Option A – fight back, or Option B – limp into the third day with two lopsided losses in a row.
The Cardinals chose Option A, and it was an A-effort from the bench and a balanced and patient attack that allowed Mentor to rally for a 69-64 victory.
The Cardinals (6-2) trailed, 19-3, in the first quarter and 23-9 to start the second. Mentor outscored ECS, 60-41, over the final 24 minutes of play.
“It didn’t look good early, so this was really a gut-check effort and a huge win,” Mentor coach Bob Krizancic said. “We started to play hard and we hit some shots and we got a great effort from some guys off the bench, especially Adam Smith, Austin Koss and Ian Tenkku.”
Mentor knocked down 10 of 25 3-pointers, and Smith, Koss and Tenku combined for five of the long-distance makes. Smith hit 3 of 4 triples, while Smith and Tenkku came off the bench to hit one each. Koss and Tenkku also combined to go 7 for 7 from the foul line which proved crucial in a tight game.
“We got great contributions from our bench, and if we can get that with our guards and Micah (Potter) we can be a very solid team,” Krizancic said.
“The biggest thing was once we got the lead at the end of the third quarter we kept it. We never gave it up in the fourth. That was huge for this young team.”
Senior guard Joey Zaugg finished with 14 points, Potter had 13 points and 10 rebounds, Smith chipped in 11 points and Andrew Valeri added 10 for the Cardinals.
Mentor will play Norcross (GA) at 3:30 in the third game of the tournament on New Year’s Eve.
Krizancic knew what to expect in Nashville this week, so a win over a state champ from Arkansas after trailing big in the first quarter could go a long way for his youthful Cardinals.
“We wanted to come down here and experience the competition in an elite tournament and get better, but we also wanted to win,” Krizancic said. “It feels a lot better going into the final day with a win so I’m happy with the way we played hard and came back and finished.
“All these teams are very aggressive and we will get that again against Norcross. We have to match that intensity.”