MUSCATINE — It didn’t take long for Susan Orvis to see the difference.
A 17-day break between games isn’t often a good thing in the middle of the season, but Orvis knew her Muscatine girls basketball team needed a chance to regroup. They certainly took advantage.
“It was just kind of a regrouping mentality,” Muskie senior Mati Hepker said of the break. “When we came back, it wasn’t so much of a doubting, ‘Oh, we have to come back and this kind of sucks.’ It was more of we’re ready to go. We had some time off and we're rejuvenated, and we’re all willing to put in 100 percent of our effort into the second half of the season.”
Muscatine played arguably its most complete game of the season Tuesday night as they cruised past Davenport West, 54-24, at the MHS Fieldhouse.
West turned the ball over 24 times, nearly as many as the 28 shots they got up against a stout Muscatine defense. In turn, the Muskies hit nearly 42 percent of their shots and regularly found the best look on each trip as they built a 20-6 at the end of the first quarter and led 29-11 at halftime.
“I felt like tonight we worked really well together. Everything just did seem to fit, everything just slid into place,” Hepker said. “I do feel like we put together a full game tonight and everyone gave 100 percent of their effort.”
Hepker got the Muskies (5-7, 4-4 Missisippi Athletic Conference) going on the offensive end, scoring all nine of her points in the first half as she found space within West’s pack-in zone as Muscatine hit 10 of its 20 first-half shots. Abby Rusch hit two of her three 3-pointers in the first half en route to 11 points.
“I was pleased with our shot selection. We knew they were going to pack it in and contain, so we knew we were going to have to hit a few from outside,” Orvis said. “Even though they wanted to slow the tempo, doesn’t mean take quick shots but take shots in a rhythm."
Tessa Kerr added a pair of 3-pointers en route to a team-best 12 points.
The crisp execution offensively Tuesday showcased how much more confident everyone is within the Muskies offense. With the Falcons (1-9, 1-7) sticking to its zone, Muscatine found good shots by reversing the ball until an opening showed itself or someone got a free look at the basket.
It’s something they worked on over the holiday break.
“That’s definitely something we’ve been trying to focus on is just waiting on our shot because it will get there,” Kerr said. “It’s nice with a zone because we can pass it around and wait for the good shot. It just really clicked tonight, so we were able to wait and get a good shot.”
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On the flip side, Muscatine’s defense took away everything the Falcons were trying to do. Outside of an 8-for-10 effort at the foul line, West struggled to find traction offensively.
Hepker played a big part in that as she shut down West’s Rachel Stewart, who entered the game averaging 17.9 of the West’s 32.4 points per game. She was held to seven points, three of which came in the final 2 minutes, 19 seconds after Muscatine had emptied its bench.
“It disrupts everything they want to do. They want her to initiate everything. When other kids had to handle the ball, they were just not in the rhythm they typically would be in,” Orvis said of slowing Stewart. “I did like our help off the ball and some of our boxouts as well."
Building off their momentum since returning from break, the Muskies look to keep pace Friday night when they play at Class 4A No. 6 North Scott, who beat them 44-29 on Dec. 2 in Muscatine.
“We feel really good. It’s tough playing up there in the Pit,” Kerr said. “After a win like this, I think it’ll be on a good, positive note and we’ll be ready.”