For nearly three quarters, the Mississinewa Indians and the Eastbrook Panthers, battled toe-to-toe on the hardwood, as has become custom in recent seasons.
An inspired defensive effort from the Panthers kept the game close and frustrated the Indians over the first 22:20 of the contest. Eastbrook held Mississinewa to just 34 points in that time frame, kept Tai McClung from finding his rhythm in the post, and limited Landen Swanner’s touches after a 10-point first quarter.
But over the final 9:40, Mississinewa’s recommitment to defense and getting the ball inside, changed the course of the contest.
The Indians used a 19-2 run in the third and fourth quarters, and a 25-13 surge overall, to record their 13th win of the season on Friday evening, defeating the Panthers 59-48.
Despite the win, however, concerns still remain for the Indians. Over their last several contests, they have struggled to put a full, four-quarter effort together, and Mississinewa Head Coach James Reed knows that his team must play that way on a consistent basis in order to make a deep run in the state tournament.
“This team is just playing some weird basketball right now,” Mississinewa Head Coach James Reed said. “They are figuring out two quarters, three quarters, but until they put together a full four quarters, it’s going to be a stressful end of the year.”
Conversely, Eastbrook, while ultimately coming out on the losing end, put together one of their best performances of the season, and one their best defensive showings, in the Greg Allison era. The Panthers forced the Indians into 14 turnovers over the first three quarters of the game, and their defensive play, as a whole, put them in a position to potentially come away with a win.
“There are a lot of positives that we can take from this,” Eastbrook Head Coach Greg Allison said. “That was, probably, our best defensive half in the first half that we’ve played in the three years I’ve been here. There are a lot of positives that we can take from this going into our last week of the regular season and then sectional play.”
Swanner led the charge in the first quarter, scoring all but two of Mississinewa’s points in the first eight minutes of play as the Indians took a 12-6 lead.
However, the Panthers turned up their intensity on both ends of the court in the second quarter. Eastbrook began the quarter hitting their first five shots, which included a pair of baskets from Braxton Bowser and threes from Issac Rans and Bryce Dmyszewicz, to tie the game at 18-18. The Indians used a quick 7-0 burst to go back up by six, but a Harness three in the final 30 seconds made it a 25-22 Indians’ lead at the halftime break.
“Eastbrook was playing some driven basketball,” Reed said. “They were really motivated, they rebounded the ball really well, and they moved the ball really well offensively. They gave us some problems defensively with their energy.”
Bowser dominated the third quarter, scoring eight points in the frame and giving the Panthers a 35-34 lead with 1:40 on the clock. Already one of the best rebounders on the team, Bowser’s offensive game has improved significantly over the past several weeks.
“Braxton has improved a ton,” Allison said. “He’s so physically strong that when he goes into the lane, people are getting to the point where they are bouncing off of him.”
After that, however, the Indians returned to their strengths – Swanner and McClung – and the game turned in their favor.
Swanner, after scoring just two points in the third quarter, scored five in the fourth, while McClung, after scoring just four points in the first half, scored 14 in the second half, establishing his presence inside against a smaller Eastbrook lineup. McClung missed just one free throw in the fourth quarter and hit on all but one field goal attempt in the second half.
“We’ve got to run through Tai and Landen, and when we do that, we are pretty good,” Reed said. “In the second quarter, when we went away from that, we struggled. “Obviously, we haven’t been hitting threes very well, other than Landen. Right now, it’s just not time for that, it’s time to get to the basket. We shot three threes in the second half total, and it was a completely different game.”
Additionally, Mississinewa turned up their intensity on defense, forcing five Panthers turnovers in the final eight minutes, which led to several easy baskets in transition.
“They did what a veteran team should do on the road in the fourth quarter,” Allison said. “They went on a run on us, and we had a tough time answering their run.”
The Indians increased their lead from three to 19 points with 3:05 to play, and their lead never fell below double digits the rest of the way.
Swanner ended the contest with a game-high 22 points, while McClung collected 18 points to go along with seven rebounds.
Bowser finished with 17 points to go along with six rebounds, while Harness collected 12 points off the bench for Eastbrook.
As both teams head into the final week of the season, each have different goals.
On one hand, the Indians are looking to return to their high level of play, which allowed for a plethora of success early in the season.
“It’s just going to be up to them in how they handle it and how disciplined they are, especially defensively, for this next week or two,” Reed said. “We’ve got to play four quarters of inspired basketball.”
And on the other hand, Eastbrook is looking to continue trending in the right direction with the tournament just around the corner.
“We are getting there,” Allison said. “Every coach wants to be peaking around this time. I don’t want to jinx us…but we are getting close. There should be a very confident group in our locker room.”