INDEPENDENCE—Sam Crooks scored a game and career-high 34 points in Independence’s 62-57 non-conference win over visiting Fuchs Mizrachi on Tuesday.
Crooks scored just three points in the first quarter as the visiting Mayhem stormed out to an early 18-5 first-quarter lead, and then he took over and scored 31 points in the final 24 minutes to lead the Blue Devils to the come-from-behind victory.
“I think my teammates really helped with that. As a team, we all motivate each other,” Crooks said. “It was exciting. It’s a big move for us as a program and I think it’s the start of our winning streak.”
Natanel Jacobs scored 12 of his team-high 25 in the first quarter as the Mayhem took early control of the game.
Landon Jatsek then sparked the Blue Devils with eighth points—including a pair of late 3-pointers—to pull Independence to within 20-11 at the end of the first.
Independence outscored Fuchs Mizrachi in the second, 22-12, to take a 33-32 lead into the locker room.
“That’s the situation when you have zero seniors,” said Independence coach Marc Holliday of his team’s slow start. We played a team that starts four seniors, and you could tell they were bigger, stronger, and more engaged right from the tip. Our guys really struggle with that and I’m racking my brain to figure out what we can do differently, and we’re going to try some things, but it’s tough when you don’t have that senior leadership. That was a really well-coached team and everyone knows their roles, and they play it very, very well. I’m very pleased we were able to stick it out and get a victory tonight.”
Led by Crooks, who had 17 points in the second half—the Blue Devils outscored the Mayhem in the final 16 minutes, 29-25, and weathered a Fuchs Mizrachi rally down the stretch.
“We went to an offense where it’s predicated on a middle drive,” Holliday said. “The only way to get creative or to get good shots with that is you have to attack the right gap and our guys did that. We spaced the floor appropriately and that led to numerous wide-open shots for us. We went from a good shot to a great shot tonight because we made that and-one pass that we’ve been preaching in practice for months now.”
Jacobs nearly rallied the Mayhem to a win late in the game as he scored nine points in the fourth quarter, but the Blue Devils hit their free throws and made enough plays on the defensive end to seal their third win of the season.
Jatsek contributed to the win with 20 points while Matty Jirmasek and Rocco Ressler both scored four points.
“We had a freshman, Matty Jirmasek, score four big ones in the fourth quarter, so he’s not afraid to take shots,” Holliday said. “Noah Terrano came off the bench, and I know he didn’t hit any tonight, but he took great shots in rhythm and those will eventually fall. Wyatt Snyder came off the bench and played tough and got us some rebounds. Rocco is finishing around the rim a little bit better, and all these guys are going to keep working on their game. We’re going to hopefully have a great end to this season, and we’ll be ready to go next year for sure.”