After a long break to rejuvenate tired bodies and minds, the ECC Panther men came back focused and ready to get back to work for the second half of the season. The Panthers would split their first four games with wins against Marshalltown Community College and NIACC and take losses to Iowa Lakes and Southwestern Community College.
ECC vs MCC (82-74)
Up first was a rematch with Marshalltown Community College on Jan. 9. The Panthers faced the Tigers in their first matchup in November, which was a hard fought battle that saw the Panthers up big throughout most of the first half, but an 18-0 run to start the second half drew the Tigers back into the game and they eventually walked away with a win.
With the thought of that game still burned into their memories, the Panthers would not be out done this time around. There has been talk about the balance and capabilities that this year's team possesses, but it only appears in glimpses and spurts. "This was the best 40 minutes of basketball we've played this season," commented ECC Head Basketball Coach Troy Muilenburg. Seeing major minutes for the first time were both Octavius O'Large and Lok Lok Thok. On paper, the two were out-sized and out-matched. But grit, toughness and determination saw the duo never stop working against the Tiger bigs. This effort and scrap exhausted the interior presence of Marshalltown's bigs and put much more of the burden on their guards to carry the load, and they did not appear ready for the task.
ECC outplayed Marshalltown at every position and walked out of the gym with the most satisfying win (82-74) on the season and ready to tackle the 2nd half of the season and an extremely tough ICCAC conference schedule.
ECC vs Iowa lakes (72-78)
The men held a lead throughout most of the game but the effort was for naught as mistakes added up down the stretch and the Lakers walked away with a 72-78 win.
ECC vs NIACC (84-81)
As the ups and downs of the season continued, the Panthers looked to right their wrongs on the road in Mason City against NIACC on Jan. 16. The game was highlighted by hot shooting by Keeon Johnson and Yach Deng, who carried the Panthers in the scoring column; Johnson finished with 24 points and Deng with 18 points. The same team principle of Defend-Rebound-Run was very much present this time around, and the Panthers went into intermission up 46-36.
The second half was much more hard fought and NIACC came out with intense pressure and full court pressing. This pressure, which has been an Achilles heel for the Panthers, forced the men into several turnovers and rushed possessions, allowing NIACC to slowly creep back into the game. Star NIACC player Boy Von Villet made a series of difficult 3's and finishes at the basket leading to his eventual game high 32 points.
As the game progressed the Panthers were never able to weather the storm and they were up by just 1 with 16 seconds to go. ECC held possession of the ball with NIACC looking to trap immediately and force another turnover. A well-executed sideline inbounds play saw sophomore points guard Darius Fuller hard drive the ball to the middle and find an open Johnson, who buried a 3-pointer from the corner with a hand in his face with six seconds left on the clock. NIACC pushed the ball and got a shot off but it was to no avail as the Panthers escaped with an 84-81 win that was anything but satisfying, but a win nonetheless.
ECC vs SWCC (72-80)
The Jan. 20 matchup saw ECC vs Southwestern Community College, a team that just beat #3 nationally ranked Kirkwood and came into the game full of confidence. The Panthers were un-phased and came out strong. Continuing their hot shooting, Deng and Johnson came out firing. Johnson had 15 points and was 5-11 from 3 and Deng had 23 points and was 5-12 for the game. Strong play and solid rebounding were established by O'Large and his four first half offensive rebounds and two blocks. The Panthers were the team in control the first half; even with a buzzer beating 3 by SWCC, ECC went into the break up 30-26.
Like many of their games this season, continuing to match the first half energy was a problem for the Panthers as they let SWCC back in the game with lackluster play. SWCC's Keshawn Wilson was circled in big red marker on Head Coach Troy Muilenburg's board before the game as the guy the Panthers could not let in the game. This would prove to be more difficult than they imagined as Wilson connected for 5 second half 3-pointers and 20 total 2nd half points, eventually driving the Spartans past the Panthers. The Panthers kept it close and with 2 minutes to go, they saw themselves only down 4 after Myzeah Batie-Gaddy hit a 3-point basket. The game was played out by fouls and full court press attempts, but SWCC was able to handle the pressure and knock down free throws to hand the Panthers their 9th loss on the season, 72-80.
Photo Caption: #32 Jon Harrington looks to make a move in the MCC game. Harrington had 7 points in the Panthers' win over MCC.