MECCA For the first quarter-plus Tuesday night, Mathews hung right with Maplewood, only trailing by two points. After that, it was all Rockets, who used a big push to take a double-digit lead they would maintain throughout in a 70-54 victory.
After the Mustangs got within 13-11 at the beginning of the second quarter, Maplewood rolled out to a 33-20 halftime lead.
Leading the charge was Nate Spitler. The 5-foot-9 sophomore guard hit consecutive 3-pointers and added a pair of steals that led to four more points. First he fed Ethan Obradovich, then he made two free throws that gave the Rockets a 23-13 advantage with 3:14 left in the half. Spitler scored 16 points before fouling out with 3:20 to play.
"Nate does a good job. He got in foul trouble early, but he's really come along throughout the course of the year," Maplewood coach Nathan Kish said. "He's a sophomore and he was playing like a sophomore. He's not playing like a sophomore anymore. The game's slowed down for him. He's taking his time, he's starting to knock down some shots. He's a natural scorer. When he gets going he can do some really good things for us."
Maplewood (14-5, 8-2 Northeastern Athletic Conference, Stars Division) kept things going in the third quarter. Luke Evan made a basket, then followed with a steal and layup for a 40-24 lead. He added two more free throws to push the Rockets' advantage to 50-30 with 1:54 remaining in the third.
Mustangs coach Jason Lee said while he gives credit to Maplewood, he felt his team's inconsistency at the free-throw line hurt its chances.
"(Maplewood) turned the ball over a little bit but I think they handled the pressure really well when it counted," he said. "They had kids that stepped up and made some key shots. We missed a lot of easy bunny shots. As good as we were from the foul line against Grand Valley - we were 24 of 26 - they met us on the right night. Against PV we were 2 of 16, 24 of 26 and 19 of 34 tonight. That kills you. Seven more points and we're at least in the game to where we can do something."
Mathews (7-10, 4-5) tried to come back in the fourth quarter, getting within 64-49 on a shot by Aaron Suchanek, Obradovich, who scored a game-high 19 points, made a pair of baskets to extend Maplewood's lead to 68-50.
"I give a lot of credit to my kids," Lee said. "I don't care what the score is out there, fourth quarter we went at them. We had people on the floor, people with a lot of skinned knees, kids worrying about their ribs, kids with ankle problems."
Kish said despite the double-digit victory, his team still has some things to work on heading into Friday's big game.
"Mathews did a really good job of getting in the paint," he said. "I was upset with the way we played defensively once we got that lead. It was like we stopped taking away help side. We were not there. They got some easy layups. It's frustrating but we have a big game Friday (against undefeated Bristol). If we're going to win that game, we can't allow things like that to happen."