PACKWOOD — When the Pekin High School boys basketball team plays defense, it can win any game.
The Panthers brought their best defense in their first game of the new year.
Brock Long scored a game-high 17 points to almost outscore Mediapolis by himself, and Pekin limited the Bulldogs to just eight points in the first half of a 49-23 SEI Superconference North Division victory Friday.
“I feel like in the two games we lost (Hillcrest Academy and EBF), both those games were in the 60s and was kind of used that as motivation,” said Pekin coach John Swanson, whose team allows just 45 points per game. “I’m very happy with our defense tonight. We got in gaps and we denied the ball. Mediapolis isn’t a bad team, and they missed some shots, but that’s basketball.”
It wasn’t exactly an offensive clinic for the Panthers (6-2, 6-1 division), who missed plenty of close-range shots and struggled at the free-throw line. Still, they were able to overcome that with timely shooting, particularly by Long. The junior scored nine of 11 points in the second quarter to help the Panthers take a 22-8 lead at halftime.
No one else scored in double figures, and Pekin was just 5 of 14 at the line. However, the Panthers did enough offensively as their defense dominated the game.
“Brock is such a luxury to bring off the bench. He could be starting for any other team in the conference,” Swanson said. “He accepts his role here by coming off the bench. He’s had some tough games, but he’s still getting used to the varsity game.”
Mediapolis (3-6, 3-3) struggled the start, making just two baskets in each of the first two quarters. Still, the Bulldogs were within reach early in the second as the Panthers went cold after a fast start. However, Pekin’s 14-2 run over 6 1/2 minutes put the game out of reach as Mediapolis went over seven minutes between baskets.
The Panthers extended their lead to 33-12 after three quarters, with timely 3-pointers by Nick Tschudy, Long and Brady Millikin setting up the rout. Pekin led by as many as 27 late in the game.
“We’ve struggled with ‘bunnies’ and free throws all year, and the more they think about those misses, the more nervous it makes them,” Swanson said. “They beat themselves up a little bit. It’s just a confidence thing, but you have to find a way to manufacture points, either in the paint or at the line.”
Owen Timmerman and Drew Schroeder scored eight points apiece for the Bulldogs, as just four players scored.
“We have the athletes to play really good defense, and we have to be able to do that consistently,” Swanson said. “The guys just need to settle in and play defense all the time, and they played it well tonight.”
Pekin visits Cardinal in a Superconference crossover game Monday.