Finishing up Mississippi Athletic Conference play Thursday night, the Muscatine boys' basketball team came to Davenport Central sitting at .500 and looking for a final regular season win heading into the postseason.
Throughout the first half at George Marshall Gymnasium, the Muskies seemed poise to accomplish that task, with eight first-half points by junior guard Braden Hufford helping stake Muscatine to a 13-point halftime lead.
However, the Blue Devils were not about to let their senior night end on a losing note, and it was one of their four seniors that helped trigger a second-half comeback that earned Central a 52-46 victory.
Senior forward Niiziar Rogers stepped up in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 of his game-high 20 points and hitting 7-of-10 free throws down the stretch to enable Central (5-10, 5-10 MAC) to pull away after it went up 46-45 with 2:16 remaining on a pair of foul shots by Kaden Johnson.
"This feels good," said Rogers, who also tallied eight rebounds and five steals. "Really, it was our defense that did it. I felt like Dane (Howard) really clamped it up at the end. Without all the turnovers and knocking down free throws, we wouldn't have been in the game like we were."
The loss finishes the Muskies' regular season at 9-10 and 7-8 in the conference, but coach John Windham measures the regular season in terms of the progress made from the year before.
"We've accomplished quite a bit from last season to this one," said Windham. "Now, we just need to play better as a team and get ready for next week."
With the score knotted at 10 after one, the Muskies reeled off a 14-1 run to open the second period as Hufford scored eight of his total tally of nine points and the duo of Reed Ulses and Waker Cler combined for 10 second-period points. At halftime, Muscatine held a 27-14 lead.
However, foul trouble and the Blue Devils' increased defensive intensity hampered Muscatine throughout the second half, enabling the Imps to close the gap to 32-29 entering the fourth quarter.
"It hurts having two starters (Dante Lee and Noah Yahn) on the bench with two fouls each in the first half; instead of building on our lead, we were just holding the lead," said Windham, who got 12 points and 7 rebounds from Ulses, with Cler also notching 12 points.
"Not having Noah, our ball-handler, on the floor hurt us, and Central went to the pressure because it wanted to pick up the tempo, and we didn't handle it well."
In addition to Rogers, sophomore point guard Tracy Hayslett helped spark the Blue Devils' second-half resurgence. He scored 12 of his 13 points in that stretch, including nine in the fourth quarter alone.
"The first half, I thought we were caught up in senior night," said Central coach Craig Wurdinger. "I was proud of how we fought, competed and came back."