Attempting to chip away at a double-digit deficit, Pleasant Valley tested the Davenport Central boys basketball team one free throw at a time Tuesday.
The Blue Devils passed the test.
Sent to the line on all but one possession during the final four minutes of the game, Central connected on 17-of-22 free throws to finish off a 68-55 Mississippi Athletic Conference victory over the Spartans at George Marshall Gym.
“They made us earn it,’’ said Blue Devils senior Keshawn Pegues, who finished off a 30-point game by hitting seven of the 10 free throws he attempted in the fourth quarter.
Pegues slipped behind the PV defense for a dunk with three minutes remaining, the field goal Central scored in the final 5 minutes, 47 seconds and extending a lead which had been cut to 49-39 on a Carter Duwa basket with 4:16 remaining.
“They tried to get into us a bit with all the fouls, but we had keep focused,’’ Blue Devils guard John Miller said. “During timeouts, the coaches kept saying, ‘focus, focus,’ and we stayed strong, got it done.’’
Pleasant Valley, trailing 14-4 after one quarter and 28-14 at halftime, found itself in a double-digit predicament as it struggled to deal with Central’s defensive pressure during the opening minutes of the game.
Eleven of the Spartans’ 15 turnovers came during the first two quarters, including seven in an opening quarter which saw the Blue Devils limit PV to seven shots.
“I felt like we were too tentative against them initially,’’ Pleasant Valley coach Steve Hillman said. “We didn’t attack their pressure the way we needed to early. After the first 12 minutes or so, I felt like we competed and showed that we could compete with a really good ranked opponent.’’
The sixth-ranked Blue Devils found early success from the perimeter, collecting four of their seven 3-point field goals in the first two quarters.
“In previous years, they’ve tried to take away our inside game and in this game, we looked for some open looks on the perimeter and they were there,’’ said Pegues, who scored 12 of his points in the first half.
Miller knocked down three shots from behind the arc as part of a 16-point effort and Josh English hit a pair on his way to a 13-point game for the Blue Devils (10-1, 7-1 MAC).
That helped Central build a lead which reached 19-4 midway through the second quarter.
Pleasant Valley cut the lead to 10 points on four occasions in the second half, the last at 65-55 with :46 to play on the last of Hunter Snyder’s five 3-point baskets.
Amari Porter hit a pair of free throws five seconds after that shot, answering the way Pegues did with baskets the two times PV trimmed the lead to 10 in the third quarter and the way Miller did by hitting two free throws midway through the fourth quarter.
Duwa and Snyder led the Spartans (6-4, 4-4) with 22 and 20 points, respectively, and the seniors combined for all but one of the 25 points PV scored in the final quarter.
“We had some lapses defensively, didn’t communicate the way we needed to all the time,’’ Central coach Craig Wurdinger said.
“That gave their shooters a chance to get going and make things interesting. But, we hit enough free throws to get through it and get a good win over an opponent that made us work for the win.’’