Sixth-ranked Mustangs deny stern challenge by Meskwaki

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE • East Marshall’s Zaine Leedom (13) goes in for the dunk and two of his 12 points during the Mustangs’ 47-32 victory over Meskwaki on Thursday night at Meskwaki Settlement.

MESKWAKI SETTLEMENT — Two nights after knocking off five-time reigning NICL West Division champion Gladbrook-Reinbeck to secure its first conference championship in 22 years, the Class 2A No. 6 East Marshall boys’ basketball team found itself clinging to a narrow non-conference lead.

The Meskwaki Warriors have stared down top competition all year long, only to come up short a handful of times.

Thursday night proved to be no different as the visiting Mustangs used a 20-7 fourth-quarter advantage to put away the Warriors for a 47-32 triumph, upping East Marshall’s record to 18-0.

With conference and county rival West Marshall standing in the way of a perfect NICL West record in tonight’s league tilt in Le Grand, East Marshall (18-0) struggled to take control of a shorter but speedy Meskwaki squad that was up to the challenge. The host Warriors (10-7) used a 9-0 run spanning a two and a half minute stretch of the first and second quarters to capture their only lead — 15-13 — before back-to-back 3-pointers put East Marshall in front to stay.

It was anything but a cakewalk for the Mustangs, who led 27-25 before breaking free with the first six points of the fourth quarter.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE • East Marshall’s Zach Finders (15) scores a fast-break layup in front of Meskwaki defender Taurice Grant during the first half of Thursday’s game at Meskwaki Settlement School.

A 3-pointer for Meskwaki’s lone senior Jarius Bear at the midway point of the final period brought the Warriors to within 33-28, but East Marshall sped away with the next 11 points and eventually the low-scoring victory.

“I thought maybe there was a little hangover from Tuesday night after clinching the conference title,” East Marshall head coach Adam Bauder said. “We seem to be playing a little tight of late, which is understandable given the position we’re in. As a coaching staff we’re trying to get them to clear their minds of all the outside stuff surrounding this team and just focus on playing basketball and enjoying the moment that they’ve created for themselves.

“If we can get back to that, we will be fine.”

East Marshall held the early advantage powered by Zane Johnson’s breakaway dunk and a Tyler DeBondt 3-pointer, but Johnson’s two quick fouls sent him to the bench for the remainder of the first half.

The formerly quick-strike Warriors instead settled into a patient man-to-man offense that yielded quality looks and scoring opportunities they swished.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

“We’re getting our sets, our looks that we want, but we just didn’t capitalize on enough of them,” said Meskwaki head coach Garrett Bear. “A couple bad passes by young players led to dunks; we didn’t want to allow any dunks, it’s a pride thing and they got momentum from them too.”

East Marshall struggled just enough at the free-throw line to allow the Warriors to remain in striking distance, but that fell apart with a three-minute scoreless streak in the fourth quarter. Emmett Roberts’ 3-pointer provided a too little-too late spark for the hometown crowd that thought for three quarters it was going to get the upset it craved so badly.

“I thought we played good defense tonight but just couldn’t get into an offensive flow,” Bauder said. “Early fouls on Zane Johnson did not help, but we showed some good mental toughness and perseverance to battle through it and come out on top — similar to Tuesday night’s game against G-R.”

East Marshall, which allows an average of just 41.59 points per game, held Meskwaki to a season-low 32. Taurice Grant led the Warriors with 11 points, Bear finished with nine and Roberts added six. Taté Bear, one of the team’s top scorers, is slowly returning from an ankle sprain and came off the bench to contribute just two points.

“We led in the fourth quarter of our first games against Colo-NESCO and Baxter, and at Janesville we had the go-ahead bucket called off on a charge,” coach Bear said. “That’s just our growing pains.”

The Warriors close the regular season at home tonight against 1A No. 5 Don Bosco and Monday at West Marshall.

“We’ll find our groove with these three tough games, it will get us into playoff shape,” coach Bear added.

East Marshall, which wraps up conference play tonight at home against West Marshall, was led by 14 points apiece from Johnson and DeBondt. Zaine Leedom finished with 12 points while Eli Anderson, Zach Finders and Logan Nicholson each contributed one bucket.

East Marshall 47, Meskwaki 32

At Meskwaki Settlement

EAST MARSHALL (18-0) — Zaine Leedom 6 4-6 12, Zane Johnson 6 2-3 14, Eli Anderson 1 0-0 3, Tyler DeBondt 3 5-9 14, Logan Nicholson 1 0-2 2, Evan Espenscheid 0 0-0 0, Zach Finders 1 0-0 2, Jimmy Sylvester 0 0-0 0. TOTALS 18 7-17 47.

MESKWAKI (10-7) — Emmett Roberts 2 1-2 6, Taurice Grant 5 1-2 11, Victor Balderas 0 0-0 0, Jarius Bear 4 0-0 9, Tiernan Wanatee 2 0-0 4, Taté Bear 1 0-0 2, Evan Nelson 0 0-2 0. TOTALS 14 2-6 32.

E. MARSHALL 13 6 8 20 — 47

MESKWAKI 9 8 8 7 — 32

3-Point Goals–EM 4 (DeBondt 3, Anderson), Meskwaki 2 (Roberts, J.Bear). Total Fouls–EM 9, Meskwaki 17. Fouled Out–none.