They are a year older, a year stronger and a year wiser.

Pleasant Valley's boys basketball team struggled to close out games last season and opponents made them pay. It resulted in an 11-12 record.

But with three returning starters, including two juniors in the backcourt, the Spartans have shown more composure in the first two games this winter.

After Davenport Assumption whittled a double-digit deficit to six points early in the fourth quarter Tuesday night, PV never let Assumption draw any closer in a 65-55 road triumph in the Mississippi Athletic Conference opener.

"We have more cohesion out there," senior Brian Dayman said after an 18-point, 13-rebound performance.

The Spartans (2-0, 1-0) used a big fourth quarter in the season opener to break free from Iowa City High.

This time, triggered by a 27-point second quarter, PV built an 11-point halftime margin and never relinquished it.

"Last year when that lead got to (five or six), we might lose that one," Spartans coach Steve Hillman said. "We had a lot of good teams on the rope last year, but we didn't have that finishing instinct.

"We're a year older and a year more mature. They've got a grip on what we want to get done out there."

Hunter Snyder provided the game-changing spark.

The junior had a game-high 20 points, including three of his four 3-pointers in the second quarter, as PV outscored Assumption by 11 in the eight-minute frame.

"I really came into the game feeling confident," Snyder said. "I got a lot of shots up coming into this game and it felt good."

When Snyder wasn't draining 3-pointers, the Spartans were attacking inside and converting at the foul line. 

PV finished with a 29-15 rebounding advantage and outscored Assumption (0-2, 0-1) 24-6 at the free throw stripe.

"It is just a mindset we have," Dayman said. "Our main focus for Pleasant Valley basketball is toughness. We go out and out-tough 'em. We go get that ball and not let them have it."

Assumption coach Matt Fitzpatrick admitted that was a significant difference.

"They do the little things so well," Fitzpatrick said. "That's what has separated them as far as being competitive every single year."

Snyder said PV just has a better comfort level with its teammates on the court this season.

"The communication is much improved," Snyder noted. "We're so much better working together and talking on the defensive end."

Hillman felt his team's offensive execution was "10 times" better than it was in the opener. The Spartans were moving the ball from side-to-side and got plenty of interior touches.

"That was a step in the right direction for us," Hillman said.

Trent Fitzpatrick led the Knights with a dozen points. Anthony Valainis chipped in 11 while Dylan Peeters had nine.

Fitzpatrick said his team never could get in an offensive flow.

"(PV) plays really hard, very physical," Fitzpatrick said. "It just felt like, every loose ball it was a little more important to them than us.

"Even when we had position, we'd have it and they would tip it out of our hands. We were never able to get clean rebounds."

Assumption's Landon Dugan left with a knee injury in the opening quarter and did not return.

For PV, it was an important road win against a team projected to finish in the upper half of the league.

"It is a huge confidence boost, honestly," Dayman said. "We knew we had a lot of confidence and knew we were the better team. Our main focus was just improving from our first game and we did that."

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Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.