All the numbers seemed to be working against Muscatine going into Friday night’s home game against North Scott, but the Muskies prevailed, nonetheless.
Muscatine hadn’t beaten North Scott since it earned a two-game sweep of the Lancers during the 2016-17 season, the only two Muskie wins in the teams' last 21 matchups.
The Lancers came in winners of five of their first six games while Muscatine entered 1-4 but came in fresh off a road win over Bettendorf Tuesday night.
Much like the game against Bettendorf, in which the Muskies raced out to a 21-7 after one period, Muscatine again started hot, building an 11-5 advantage over the Lancers. After that, the MHS relied on defense and two different 10-0 runs to finish off a 51-46 victory.
“What’s starting to happen is we’re locked in on defense,” said Muscatine head coach John Windham. “Defense has been the key the last two games.”
That was an aspect the Muskies gave much attention to over the holiday break.
“For the first week we got back, because we played such (bad) defense against City High (in the 64-57 loss on Dec. 21) we locked in on defense,” said Windham. “One day we did an hour and 15 minutes of defense. I think the kids are buying in now that they’re realizing that when we play defense, we’re successful.
“Holding North Scott to 11 points in a half is pretty darn good.”
There wasn’t a new boys basketball poll coming out of the holiday break, but in the last poll that came out on Dec. 27, North Scott was ranked No. 5 in Class 4A.
North Scott (5-2, 3-2 MAC) was able to cut the Muscatine lead to five late, and kept it a two-possession game for a majority of the final four minutes, but Muscatine shot 4-of-8 from the field and 8-of-9 from the free throw line in the fourth to maintain the lead throughout and put the game on ice late.
Senior Josh Dieckman led the Muskies (2-4, 2-2 MAC) with 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting. That included two three-point plays that gave MHS six of its first eight points. He also added six rebounds and two assists.
For Dieckman, it was one of his best all-around performances in a Muskie uniform.
“Oh, yeah, for sure,” Dieckman said when asked if he felt Friday night was one of his better varsity games. “Coach has been working with me, at practice we worked on (post moves) and trying to push it under the hoop, and that’s what I tried to do. ... We want to play at our tempo, and its been working.”
In the first half, North Scott was a one-man show as junior Oliver Hughes scored all 11 Lancer points as the sides went into halftime with Muscatine leading 25-11.
“We’re coming into games thinking we’re going to win, and bringing a lot of energy with that,” said Dieckman. “It’s always a plus when that happens. Our work on defense is showing.
“It’s was good for us to get some guys back from injury — we’ve missed (starter) Dante Lee the past couple games — but we’re filling the roles and everyone’s playing hard.”
Hughes was the only Lancer to post double figures in scoring, but two others — Landon Eiland and Cole Kilburg — ended the night with nine each.
For the Muskies, second to Dieckman’s output was senior Waker Cler’s 11 points. Senior Reed Ulses added eight points, eight rebounds and two assists.
Junior Braden Hufford ended with five points but led the Muskies with six assists.
Hufford was essential down the stretch.
In a two-minute span late in the final quarter, Hufford assisted on four straight Muscatine buckets, the first two to Cler, then one apiece to Ulses and Dieckman. By the end of that span, MHS built a 44-31 lead with 2:30 to play.
North Scott made a frantic comeback attempt that was nearly successful — the Lancers scored 28 in the fourth — but five points was as close as the Lancers could get it.
“We had a lot of open layups when we started doing what we’re supposed to be doing,” Windham said. “What’s nice about the senior group plus Hufford and others is that they’re starting to bond together. That’s what team chemistry is all about. We’ve been preaching all year long that it isn’t going to be one guy, it’s going to be a team effort.
“This has been a good week for us.”