Down by 20 points in the first half of Saturday’s game against nationally ranked Findlay Prep (Nev.) in the Tarkanian Classic in Nevada, it appeared that perhaps Montrose Christian wasn’t quite built to hang with the country’s elite yet. Featuring an entirely new roster and coaching staff this season, the Mustangs had seen their undefeated start halted by losses to Paul VI, ranked No. 1 in The Post Top 20, Faith Baptist Christian Academy and an upstart Our Savior New American (N.Y.) squad .
But for Montrose Christian Coach Bryan Bartley, the large deficit was exactly what his team needed.
“We’d never really been blown out before,” Bartley said during a Sunday phone interview. “In our two losses to Paul VI and Our Savior, we had gone into halftime with the lead. So when we were down big in Saturday’s game, that was unfamiliar territory and it was a great opportunity for us to depend more on one another and build chemistry while fighting back.”
Fueled by star junior guard Allonzo Trier, who scored 26 of his 36 points in the second half, the Mustangs rallied to tie the game at 61 with less than 10 seconds remaining.
Bartley had told the Mustangs to run the play Oklahoma on the final possessions, and after Findlay Prep missed two free throws, Patrick McCaw prepared to do just that after gathering the rebound. But McCaw bobbled the pass and nearly lost the ball to a Pilot defender near halfcourt.
“When that happened, I kind of panicked a little bit,” McCaw said. “But I stayed with it, pushed it ahead and saw Raymond [Doby] ahead and got the lob. It was all pretty crazy.”
When Doby soared in from the right side for the decisive dunk as time expired, a stunned groan passed throughout the Nevada-based, pro-Findlay crowd while the Mustangs poured onto the floor in celebration.
“It would be great for me to say that I designed it all, but it was just a heads-up play by Pat,” Bartley said with a laugh.
McCaw’s poise and pinpoint pass to Doby are welcome signs of chemistry for a team that’s played together for barely over two months. Though plenty of talent is at Bartley’s disposal, the first-year Mustangs coach has had to work on the fly in meshing the many skills of players like Bartley, Doby and Trier during their 5-3 start, making gritty wins like Saturday’s that much more important for the team dynamic.
“Coming off those losses, this win was big for us as a team,” said McCaw, who finished with 17 points in the victory. “We’ve got a lot of players that don’t know each other and weren’t comfortable playing together at first, but we’re starting to build that chemistry and get better in time.”