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Pleasant Valley isn’t the sort of basketball team anyone wants to play at any time of year but that’s especially true late in the season.

The Spartans play stingy man-to-man defense, are very, very patient on offense and have the ability to make free throws in bunches. And they often seem to get better as the season progresses.

“No one wants to play us in February,’’ senior guard Carter Duwa said. “We play our best basketball then and I think we’re starting to do that now.’’

Davenport Central certainly didn’t enjoy the experience Tuesday night.

The Spartans held the often impatient Blue Devils to just 29.1-percent shooting from the field and handed 10th-ranked Central its third loss in the past four games with a 51-41 victory at the PV gym.

In the first meeting between the two teams in January, Central jumped on PV early, got its transition game going and never looked back on the way to a 68-53 victory.

This time the Blue Devils (14-5, 11-5 Mississippi Athletic Conference) never led. They didn’t score in the first 4 minutes, 42 seconds of the game or in the first 6:15 of the second quarter as the Spartans (13-7, 9-7 MAC) gained control of the game and the clock.

“They did a nice job of jumping out early on us the last time ...’’ PV coach Steve Hillman said. “I thought our guys did a nice job of controlling tempo early this time and kind of got us into a PV game right away.’’

A PV game. That means a lot of long, tedious possessions with the Spartans maneuvering around the perimeter, probing for openings.

“I’d like to see a shot clock,’’ Central coach Craig Wurdinger admitted.

“It’s kind of boring to watch but it is what it is,’’ he added. “Our kids don’t respond well to it. We fall asleep on defense. We’re not real disciplined when it comes to playing defense for two or three minutes in a stretch. They did a nice job of executing and made some nice shots.’’

Central battled from behind all night and finally closed to within two points (40-38) on a steal and short jumper by Kaiden Phillips with just under two minutes to go.

But then it became a foul shooting contest. Duwa made one of two free throws with 1:43 remaining and four different PV players combined to go 10 for 10 after that to finish things off.

Duwa led the Spartans with 18 points with Cade Collier and sophomore Jacob Townsend adding 10 apiece.

More significant was who didn’t score in the game. Central’s Keshawn Pegues, the No. 2 scorer in the MAC, hit the Spartans with 30 points in their earlier meeting but this time he had eight points on 2-for-10 shooting, thanks primarily to the efforts of PV senior Hunter Snyder.

“I kind of let him shoot a little bit and took away his drive,’’ Snyder said. “My teammates had gap help all night and it really frustrated him offensively … It was just great team defense.’’

“We actually doubled (Pegues) in the post but on the perimeter it was pretty much one on one with Hunter,’’ Hillman added. “He’s one of the better defenders around so we like that matchup.’’

Hillman said it probably was the best win of the season for the Spartans, who play at Muscatine on Thursday and begin postseason play Monday against Cedar Rapids Jefferson.

“The last two or three weeks here we’ve made a lot of strides,’’ Hillman said. “I like how we’re playing going into the tournament.’’

Central hosts MAC co-leader Bettendorf on Thursday and Muscatine on Friday, then has a week off before beginning the playoffs.

Wurdinger hopes for and expects a better effort in those games.

“I was just disappointed in our team today that I thought we played hard for maybe two or three minutes,’’ he said. “Towards the end we kind of picked it up and played hard, but I thought we were kind of flat.’’

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