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With a relatively inexperienced varsity team coming back and a 1-4 start to the season, it would have been easy to write Metea Valley’s boys basketball team off.
But look at the Mustangs now, rolling into the playoffs with an 18-9 record after Thursday’s 62-53 Upstate Eight crossover win over St. Charles North.
“I think at the beginning of the year we got off to a really slow start,” Metea senior Trayvond Taylor said. “People were doubting if we would get 10 wins. We’re happy that we’re playing this way going into the playoffs.”
The main reason for the Mustangs’ success this season is defense, and that was the case once again Thursday. The game started off as a see-saw affair — tied at 26-26 late in the second quarter — before the Mustangs turned the screws defensively and took command.
Metea scored the final seven points of the half, capped by a Vin Patel three-pointer, to take a 33-26 lead into the break.
“I thought we responded after a slow start,” Metea coach Bob Vozza said. “We had some poised, key moments. Guys stepped up. Vin hit a couple shots to get us going. It all started with our defense.”
St. Charles North (16-10) got only as close as two points the rest of the way, and that was early in the third quarter. Star senior Quinten Payne scored 11 of his team’s first 24 points, but Taylor, Derek Coleman and Marquell Oliver — among others — held him to only two points the rest of the game.
“Payne got it going early, hit some big shots for them,” Vozza said. “We were doing the best to keep the ball out of his hands.”
North cut the lead to 55-50 late in the fourth, but Patel hit another three-pointer (he was 3-for-4 from the arc), followed by layups from Connor Archey and Taylor to push the lead back out to 62-50 and secure the win.
Payne led the North Stars with 13 points. Kyle Swanson added 11 points and Alec Goetz scored 10, all in the second half.
“We had a long discussion about next week,” North coach Tom Poulin said. “If this happens next week, we’re setting up a time to turn in uniforms. We made an awful lot of mental mistakes. But we’ve been playing very, very well. This was a competitive ballgame. I like the way we started. We’re just remaining positive as we go forward for next week.”
Taylor led all scorers with 15 points for Metea. Patel added 13 points and Hayden Barnard scored 10 points and blocked six shots in the win.