Panthers subdue Indians, extend win streak

Dayne Eckley out-muscled Keaton Mitchell (DII prospect) in a game of strength and physicality down low in the Panthers 47-32 win over Wapello. Eckley finished the game with 14 points and six rebounds while Mitchell was held to 11 points and nine rebounds.

The Pekin boys’ basketball team knew it would have a challenge on their hands by taking on a senior-laden Wapello team on January 4, their first game coming off break. Though the Panthers found themselves down early, the defense turned it around and the offense did the rest in a convincing 47-32 win over the Indians. They have now won five straight and are 8-2 on the season.

Wapello exploited their post play early in the game, getting the ball to their DII prospect Keaton Mitchell, who made a couple buckets and threw down a vicious dunk which got a rise from both fanbases. At that point, it seemed like he couldn’t be shut down by posing a size advantage down low, but the physicality and determination of the Panther defense would end up limiting him to just 11 points on four made baskets. On the other end of the court, Pekin played took a similar approach by getting the ball into the hands of their versatile posts. Wapello came out of the first quarter with a narrow 7-6 lead, but that wouldn’t last long.

“I was concerned about their passes from the top down and that’s where they had success early. You can scout and play the practice teams all you want, but until you go up against somebody like Mitchell, you don’t know how it’ll play out,” Pekin coach John Swanson said. “It took us a little while but once we quit over-helping, that was about it.”

The Panthers took the lead back early in the second quarter, but Wapello continued to answer with a successful possession of their own. It wasn’t until midway through the quarter that the tide truly started to turn as multiple turnovers and relentless defense kept Wapello scoreless for the final four minutes of the half. Pekin would continue to score and ended the half on a 13-0 run to hold onto a 21-14 lead and the momentum squarely on their side.

The drought continued for the Indians into the third quarter as the Pekin defense continued to shut down the interior and hound the lesser experienced wing players, leading to more empty possessions. Wapello finally got back on the board midway through the third by hitting an open triple, but even then, they trailed by double digits. Pekin would maintain a safe lead, up 33-21 heading into the final quarter.

“I knew they would have something else in their pocket to prepare for us coming off a bad loss before the break,” Swanson said. “They’ve been senior laden the past couple years and their guards have struggled some this year, so we wanted to try and take advantage of that. I was happy with how we wore out their point guard and made him flustered.”

The Panthers remained aggressive on the glass and the defense continued to be strong even when some reserves logged some playing time on the court. Nick Tschudy made his warm-up threes look easy and that translated when he found himself open in the fourth, and for good reason since he was at least five feet beyond the arc. Tschudy calming attempted the triple right in front of his bench and swished it, getting a big ovation from the Pekin crowd. From there it started to get loud with the fans cheering on their boys to hold off Wapello’s late run. Sensing defeat, the Indians subbed in their reserves as did the Panthers to finish out a 47-32 win.

“We’ve got to take this one day at a time. In the past we haven’t done that, and it’s hurt us,” Swanson said. “It starts with our defense. The guys are buying into our defense and they’re playing together regardless of what happens on the other end of the floor.”

Dayne Eckley led the scoring effort with 14 points for the Panthers, shooting 7-10 from the field to go with six rebounds, three blocks and one steal. Cameron Millikin also got into double figures with 10 points, three steals and one assist. Caleb Comstock chipped in with six assists, six rebounds, four points and two steals. Kennan Winn also put together a big game by scoring eight points, recorded six steals, grabbed four boards and assisted on one bucket.

“Dayne and Kennan played huge for us in the post,” Swanson said. “If this were a football team, I’d give them both game balls for their performances.”

The Panthers hosted Winfield Mt. Union on January 8 and will host Columbus Junction on January 11 before facing off against rival Sigourney on the road on January 12.