Short-handed Metea Valley gets past Vernon Hills

Metea Valley was short-handed, but that didn't make a difference with the way the Mustangs played on Monday afternoon.

The Mustangs had only seven players available for their game against Vernon Hills in the opener of the Maine East Christmas Tournament, but they defeated Vernon Hills 74-71 with a strong effort down the stretch.

"The kids just played and they're resilient," said Metea assistant coach Matt Logan, who filled in for head coach Isaiah Davis. "We had seven kids out here and the toughest group. We knew that we could compete. The kids produced and it was the first opportunity to get the extended time on the varsity.

"The other group, those kids just have to deal with protocols right now, and it is what it is. We just have kids with the next man up mentality."

The Mustangs (4-6) nearly let a 16-point third quarter lead slip away, but they rallied back in the fourth quarter and were 14 of 18 from the free-throw line in the final 8 minutes.

Javion Grizzle had a team-high 16 points off the bench and made 5 of 6 free throws in the final minute for the Mustangs.

"Just knowing that I can close out the game and help us secure the win," Grizzle said. "After (Vernon Hills) was making it so close with their defense. I think it helped us get the win and we didn't have to worry about scoring buckets every time. Maybe I was a little bit nervous (shooting free throws). I was shaking a little bit but mainly, I was tired. I just took a deep breath and did my routine, then knocked them down."

Srivant Avulabalayyagari added 14 points, while Charlie Nosek and Chandrahaas Duggirala each had 12 for the Mustangs.

Vernon Hills (9-3) was led by Max Brusso with 19 points, Milan Rival with 18, Justin St. Louis with 12 and Erik Rimas chipped in with 11.

The Cougars were caught chasing the Mustangs after being down 37-27 at halftime. Then they fell behind 43-27 a minute into the third quarter.

Vernon Hills rallied with a couple of runs and trailed 52-48 heading into the final quarter.

The Cougars' Brusso made a 3-pointer for a 57-56 lead with 4:25 left. But the Mustangs countered on a rebound putback by Grizzle with 4:10 left and Metea Valley never lost the lead after that.

"We thought we were chasing the whole game," Vernon Hills coach Matt McCarty said. "We took the lead there for a little bit, but you have to give Metea Valley the credit. They attacked well and finished well. They made their free throws down the stretch. We expended a lot of energy to take the lead at that point. Down the stretch, (Metea Valley) attacked the basket and we fouled a lot. They did a nice job of finishing things off in the last three minutes."

Metea Valley will play Westinghouse on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the quarterfinals as Westinghouse got by Ridgewood 73-41. Vernon Hills meet Ridgewood in the consolation bracket at noon.

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