A state ranking made Davenport North a favorite over cross-town rival West heading into Friday night's Mississippi Athletic Conference boys basketball game.
The Falcons did their best to try and prove they may be worthy of watching as well in the Iowa Class 4A state chase.
North rallied from a nine-point deficit in the final eight minutes Friday, but couldn't finish the charge as a number of shots failed to fall in the final minute of West's 65-63 victory at the Falcons Nest.
"North didn't make it easy, they didn't let up," said West's John Miller, who scored 14 of his team-high 22 points in the second half and added six rebounds. "We're trying to compete for a state title this year, and a game like this is going to help us. This was a real wake-up call.
"Every team is going to give us their best. We're a different team this year, we're loaded and we've got experience, and we're going to go out and compete. Good teams will find a way to get through, and we did."
It wasn't easy, though, against a team that swept last year's season set and came in ranked fifth in Class 4A.
Up by as many as 13 points in the second half and taking a nine-point lead into the fourth quarter, West (2-0, 2-0 MAC) saw North (1-2, 1-2 MAC) get as close as one when a Mahki Jacobs bucket with 1:08 on the clock closed the gap to 62-61. In the closing seconds, the Wildcats had a flurry of attempts to win or force overtime, but all of their shots missed the mark.
"Credit to North," West coach David Robinson said. "They're a top 10 team in the state, and we came out and did a good job against them. We stuck together and played as a team; it was focus. We were determined to win. Now, this is over, and we play Assumption, another state-ranked team."
Led by the duo of Jayden Houston, who had game highs of 24 points and seven rebounds and five steals, and Quincy Wiseman (17 points, five rebounds), the Wildcats scored the final four points in the third quarter to whittle a 13-point deficit to 51-42, setting the stage for their comeback bid over the final eight minutes.
In the first quarter, the Falcons reeled off eight straight points to go up 14-7 only to have North responded with a 7-0 run to tie the score, the last points coming on a pair of Houston free throws with 6.2 seconds on the clock.
However, West's Diontray Whitney was fouled as time expired, and he hit one of his free throws to put the hosts up 15-14 after one.
With junior guard Jermaine Gardner scoring 14 of his 20 points in the first half, the Falcons continued to trade blows with North before closing the second quarter on a 10-0 run, taking a 37-28 lead into halftime.
"We've still got a couple of things to work on, but I feel like we're getting better as a team," said Gardner, who added five rebounds and five steals. "We just had to keep up the same intensity that we had in the first half.
"In the fourth quarter, we stayed together as a team, and we didn't put our head down. North is a good team, and I'm glad we closed it out."
Houston scored nine of his points in the fourth quarter, and North teammate Kyle Lamonte converted a three-point play with 3:35 remaining that closed the gap to 58-55. Buckets by Wiseman and Jacobs made it a one-point game and gave the Wildcats a chance to leave the Falcons' nest with a victory.
While North coach Marc Polite was pleased with how his club battled back, the 13-point deficit it faced in the third quarter proved to be an insurmountable barrier.
"You've got to close it out if you want to win games in this conference, that's plain and simple," Polite said. "We put ourselves in a tough situation. I told the guys in the locker room that we've got to be worthy of winning, and West made more winning plays tonight. They did a great job of controlling the game, and took us out of some things we wanted to do.
"Being down (nine) going to the fourth, we had to expend a lot of energy, but I thought we had enough left in the gas tank to finish it out."
Before taking the court Friday evening, West picked up a matchup Saturday afternoon at Davenport Assumption. That MAC game tips at 1:30 p.m. and will serve as one of the team's two regular-season meetings.