PEKIN — John Swanson wants his team to stay hungry this season.
If Friday night was any indication, the Pekin boys basketball team may just be wetting its appetite.
Brady Millikin set the tone for a brilliant night of team basketball by the Panthers, sinking a 3-pointer from the corner on a pass from Chandler Stull just seconds after the opening tip-off against Louisa-Muscatine. Millikin would finish with a game-high 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists as 10th-ranked (2A) Pekin continued to roll, earning a 12th straight win on Friday with a 69-31 Southeast Iowa Superconference north division win over Louisa-Muscatine.
"We talk about it all the time. We've got to want a little more all the time," Swanson said. "There are a lot of teams that would be thrilled with 14-1. We want more, so we're going to keep working towards that and stay hungry."
Part of the hunger that has driven the Panthers this week was avenging their only loss so far this season. After not playing in a 57-51 home loss to Wapello back on Dec. 8, Millikin had a game-best 17 points on Tuesday for the Panthers in a 59-44 road win that moves Pekin ahead of Wapello in the SEISC north division race and back in position to win a third straight division title.
"We've been on top the last two years for the majority of the season," Swanson said. "We're used to teams trying to come in here and take one away from us. We know how to get ready and play. We're always confident and ready to go.
"That was such a hyped game on Tuesday. To go out and perform in such a tense environment, our guys are walking with some confidence now."
That confidence was on full display for much of the night on Friday. Pekin moved the ball up and down and around the floor without many mistakes, committing just four turnovers in 32 minutes.
Cael Lyle followed a missed dunk attempt by Brayden Sobaski, collecting the offensive rebound and scoring two free throws to kick off a 10-point night for the Panther senior. Lyle would score his first field goal inside seconds later before Millikin collected a steal and found Brock Long wide open for a 3-pointer that put Pekin up 10-0 just 2:15 into the game.
"It's just a regular night for us. We put in all our effort into each game. We don't take any days off," Millikin said. "We didn't want to be too overconfident. These guys (Louisa-Muscatine) were .500 on the season coming into the game and came in feeling pretty good after beating Sigourney the previous night.
"They took care of Sigourney pretty easily. They had a lot of confidence coming in. We just took care of business."
Millikin scored eight of 16 points in the opening quarter as the Panthers played a clean first quarter on offense, hitting eight of 15 field goal attempts as a team without turning the ball over building a 21-8 lead. Louisa-Muscatine (7-8, 4-7 SEI north) fought back scoring the first seven points of the second quarter to pull within 21-14.
Pekin's response? How about a 19-0 run? Five different Panthers scored during the game-clinching run, including three consecutive made 3-pointers from Chandler Stull and Millikin giving Pekin a commanding 42-15 lead.
"We made it a big priority to come out hot and create havoc right away," Millikin said. "We wanted to crush any confidence that (Louisa-Muscatine) might have had at the beginning."
Stull would sink five makes from 3-point range before the game was over, tying Long with 15 points scored for the Panthers. Sobaski shook off his missed dunk, scoring nine points while leading Pekin with four steals and matching Millikin with a game-high five assists.
"I was really happy with such a complete game as a team. We focused in practice on passing the ball, sharing the ball and crashing the glass. We had several offensive rebounds in the first half. There weren't as many in the second half because we kept hitting shots.
"It was a fun way to play basketball. I can't ask for much more offensively."
Ty Northup led Louisa-Muscatine with 12 points and seven rebounds. Pekin (14-1, 12-1 SEI north) will look to keep on rolling next week as the 10th-ranked Panthers look to continue their quest for a third straight division title at Columbus on Tuesday and back at home next Friday night against Hillcrest Academy.