The saying in basketball is defense always travels with you even when you are struggling offensively.
The Davenport Central boys took their defense with them to slip past Pleasant Valley, 43-39, in Mississippi Athletic Conference action on Friday night in the Spartans' gym.
Playing a low-tempo game that really is not the style of the the up-and-down Blue Devils, the visitors made everything challenging for the home team offensively and made enough shots in the second half to improve to 12-5 overall and 10-3 in the conference.
PV shot only 35 percent from the floor for the contest and had long stretches in the second and third quarters where it made only two field goals. After the Spartans led 13-8 after one quarter, PV made only one field goal in the second quarter and made its first field goal in the third quarter with 1 minute, 21 seconds left in the period.
Central used that time to eventually tie the game at 16 at halftime then led 28-23 after the third quarter.
"I was really happy with our effort on most of the possessions on defense even though we did not start the game well," Central coach Craig Wurdinger said. "But in the second half, we seem to figure out how important it is to play hard and then they really get into it. I was definitely more happy with the second half."
The Blue Devils did not rack up their usual high amount of turnovers as the Spartans finished with only nine mistakes. Instead, Central challenged every pass and screen and rebounded the ball well to prevent any second chances. Emarion Ellis led the visitors with 10 rebounds to go with his 10 points. Seven of Ellis' rebounds were on the defensive end.
Even on possessions when PV (8-9, 4-9) would runs its offense for close to 45 seconds, Central did not back down.
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"We did a really nice job of closing out every time a (PV) player touched the ball," Wurdinger said. "We got after loose balls and loose rebounds. This is a tournament-type of game and we had some big stops."
Despite the low-scoring affair, the hosts were in the game the entire time. A 3-pointer from Carter Cline, who led PV with 12 points, after a nice assist from Ryan Dolphin left Central's lead at 36-33 with 2:18 left in the game.
But then Blue Devils reserve Dajion Greer came up big for his team. Greer, who barely played five minutes the entire game, calmly nailed a 3-pointer from the wing with 1:51 remaining to push the visitors' lead back to 39-33. Greer later had a layup after Central broke PV's press after a nice pass from Ellis to make it 41-35.
"Dajion has done a good job of playing his role and he has done that all year, and that was a big shot for us," Wurdinger said.
Central closed out its defensive gem when John Miller and Ellis forced a turnover with a trap in the backcourt as the hosts were trying to get something going only down 42-38 with 34 seconds left. Miller later hit a free throw to seal the deal. Kaiden Phillips also contributed 11 points for the winners, including nine points in the second half.
Pleasant Valley coach Steve Hillman said he was proud of his team's defensive effort as well, keeping a run-and-gun team like Central to only 43 points.
He added that his team's offensive execution was not bad either. What hurt the Spartans were six missed shots in the lane and the hosts also missed three free throws in the fourth quarter and finished 13-for-20 from the foul line. Jacob Townsend finished with 10 points and five rebounds for the Spartans.
"I thought we were excellent defensively, everything Central took was contested," Hillman said. "We protected the lane, took transition away from them and our defensive rebounding was tremendous.
"We just didn't make enough baskets. We had three or four shots in the lane that did not fall, we had three or four open 3s that did not go down. You are just not going to win a big game when you don't make those plays. I am proud of our guys and the improvements they have made. You just can't have those stretches when you don't score."