MUSCATINE — For three-and-a-half quarters on Tuesday night, the Muscatine boys basketball team poured in basket after basket and maintained a double-digit lead over visiting Mt. Pleasant.
But the Class 3A fourth-ranked Panthers picked up the defensive intensity late in the game, pulling to within three points before the Muskies held them off for a hard-fought 84-78 win. It was Muscatine's third straight win.
“I was hitting a lot of shots in the first half. We all were. We put up 51 points. So we knew they were going to pick it up defensively in the second half,” said Muscatine junior Joe Wieskamp, who scored a game-high 42 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. “I think we’ll learn from it. Obviously we had a lot of turnovers late. We’ll continue to work and improve in those situations.”
After the Muskies broke Mt. Pleasant’s press, Wieskamp flushed down a two-handed dunk that gave the his team a 79-66 lead with just under four minutes remaining. But Muscatine (7-4) came up empty on the next three possessions as the Panthers rattled off 10 straight points.
Mt. Pleasant junior Brady Sartorius picked up a loose basketball, spun away from a defender at midcourt and scored a layup while being fouled with 2:14 remaining. His free throw pulled the Panthers to within 79-76.
“We were forced to have four and five guys handle the ball, and we had too many guys who didn’t want the ball in their hands,” Muscatine head coach Gary Belger said. “They weren’t coming to the ball strong.”
But after Sartorius made his free throw, Muscatine was able to break the Panthers’ press and get into a 3-on-1 break. Jackson Foulk was alone in the corner and knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Muskies some breathing room.
“Jack and Garrett [Mueller] are both stepping up big for us, being the third and fourth scorers. Having those guys step up has been huge,” Wieskamp said.
Mt. Pleasant (10-2) had several more chances to cut into the lead, but missed four shots over the game’s final two minutes.
“I can’t fault the effort,” said Mt. Pleasant head coach Paul Rundquist, whose team saw its 10-game winning streak come to an end. “I think we got better tonight. Sometimes you can get better when you lose. I thought we got better.”
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Wieskamp scored the first basket of the game, a 3-pointer from the corner, and got the hot hand immediately. He went 11-for-13 from the field in the first half and had 32 points as Muscatine led 51-42 at the break.
“When I knock down that first shot, it gives me a lot of confidence,” Wieskamp said. “I just feel like every shot’s going in when I’m taking it.”
Muscatine was 18-for-29 from the field as a team in the first half, and finished the game 31-for-56 from the floor. The Muskies also went 11-for-21 from 3-point range, with Wieskamp hitting 6 of 7.
“Wieskamp is a tough matchup when he pulls up from 25 and he pulls the ball back behind his head on his shots,” Rundquist said. “That’s tough to stop.”
Wieskamp cooled down a bit in the second half, but got some help from his teammates. Mueller went 3-for-4 from 3-point range and matched his season-high with 17 points.
“Joe had a fabulous game. We’re not in that game tonight if he doesn’t play like he did,” Belger said. “And Garrett Mueller played a good game. Joe and Garrett carried the show tonight.”
Sartorius, who entered Tuesday’s game as the sixth-leading scorer in Class 3A, poured in 27 points to lead Mt. Pleasant. Junior Jordan Magnani hit five 3-pointers and added 18 points.
The Panthers’ pressure defense showed the Muskies they have work they still need to do.
“It was nice to win, but we’re not satisfied with how we played,” Belger said.