Friday night was the best chance at a win to date for the Muscatine boys basketball team. However, by the final buzzer, it was Burlington celebrating on Muscatine’s home floor after handing Muscatine a bitter 60-58 defeat heading into Christmas break.
“It was the first quarter,” Muscatine coach John Windham said. “It’s been our Achilles heel all year. We come out and miss open shots, point blank shots, and turn the ball over. They come down and score and set up the press.
"We couldn’t even run stuff we’ve been running since Day 1. I don’t know what’s going on with that.”
The Muskies (0-9, 0-6 MAC) dug an early 11-3 hole and never led the Grayhounds on Friday night. After trailing by double-digits on two separate occasions, Muscatine battled back to within one but was unable to get a shot up on the final possession as sophomore Noah Yahn was stripped of the ball at the buzzer.
Yahn led the Muskies with 21 points while fellow sophomore Josh Dieckman added 18. Meanwhile, for Burlington, the win snapped a 71-game Mississippi Athletic Conference losing streak. Brandon Hale led the way for the Grayhounds with 14 points.
“This one hurts because this is one we should have won,” Windham said. “I told the kids last weekend this one was one we needed.”
After falling behind 11-3 in the opening minutes, the Muskies stabilized to pull within five, 15-10, to end the opening quarter. Still, seven Muscatine turnovers in the opening period helped keep Burlington (2-6, 1-5) in front.
Things got worse in the second quarter, as Burlington picked apart the Muscatine defense and opened up a 26-13 lead. A 10-2 flurry in the final four minutes of the half led by Dieckman and Yahn pulled the Muskies within 28-23 heading into the locker room.
Although Dieckman finished with 18 in what Windham acknowledged was the most aggressive game he’s seen the sophomore play, whether it was because of turnovers or the 6-foot-6 big man not running the floor, he didn’t have as big of a game as he could have.
“The plan tonight was to get him the ball,” Windham said. “He had a good game, I’ll give him credit, but he should have had 25-to-26 points. That was probably his best game by far, but he needs to do better than that the rest of the year.
“That was a big step for Josh (Dieckman) toward making a next-level move.”
The Muskies started the second half just as sluggish as the first and fell behind 46-33 midway through the third quarter. A layup by Dieckman and an assist on a Nate Diercks 3-pointer sparked a 17-9 spurt capped off by three consecutive baskets by Yahn. It pulled the Muskies within two, 55-53, with 4:30 remaining in the game.
“There were a lot of strides in the right direction in the second half,” Windham said. “We talked about runs, they made a run and we made a run.”
However, Muscatine’s momentum was halted when Dieckman was called for over-the-back going for an offensive rebound with just over four minutes remaining. Less than 10 seconds later he was called for his fourth foul and was forced to the bench for the next two minutes of play.
The Muskies gave up dribble penetration to the middle and allowed two layups by Burlington’s Carlton Martinez to give the Grayhounds a 60-56 edge with two minutes remaining.
Dieckman fouled out by intentionally fouling Burlington’s Trent Burnett with 24 seconds remaining. With the Muskies trailing 60-58, Burnett missed the front end of a one-and-one. But, out of the Muscatine timeout, Yahn was stripped at the buzzer as Burlington handed Muscatine its ninth consecutive loss to start the season.
Muscatine will have just over a week of Christmas break practice before resuming at Davenport West on Jan. 4.
“We’re going to spend a lot of time working on individual stuff,” Windham said. “We’ll work on our off-hand and how to handle pressure better. We’re still teaching the fundamental stuff that should have been taught a long time ago.”