CRESTON, Iowa — Early on Tuesday, Atlantic appeared to be in a world of trouble.
The Class 3-A No. 9 Trojans missed seven of their first eight shots, trailed No. 2 Creston by nine points and had their top three scorers with two fouls each by the end of the first quarter.
That certainly wasn't the blueprint for knocking off an unbeaten team.
But Atlantic (10-1) kept battling and had itself in a position to win down the stretch. The Trojans then held the Panthers (9-1) to four points in the final period to pull out a tough 47-40 road win.
Atlantic coach Steve Blazek called his team's seventh straight victory “a struggle.”
“Will and heart,” he said. “We didn't out-basketball them. We just out-willed them.”
One night after shooting 73 percent in the first half of a lopsided win over Tri-Center, the Trojans found themselves behind in a hurry. A jumper by Luke Neitzel and a long-range 3-pointer by Colby Taylor staked Creston to an 11-2 lead less than seven minutes in.
Atlantic's Chad Christensen, Dalton Franken and Sam Markham were whistled for two fouls apiece in the first quarter. Because of that, Blazek said, the Trojans had to scrap their usual full-court pressure.
Markham almost single-handedly kept Atlantic in the game, however, by scoring 11 of his team's 15 points before the intermission. The Trojans trailed by one at the break.
The Panthers built their lead back to eight on a 3 by Trey Thomsen with 3:34 left in the third period. But baskets by Franken and Stuart Hoegh in the closing seconds cut that margin to two.
Atlantic kept the momentum into the fourth, tying the game on a Franken jumper before moving in front for good on a 3 by Christensen off an offensive rebound and assist by Markham.
Franken and Christensen then added baskets to cap a decisive 13-2 run by the Trojans.
“At halftime, Coach came in and told us that we couldn't play any worse than we did in the first half,” Franken said. “We just had to focus and start executing on offense to get back into it.”
The 6-foot-6 senior scored 11 points in the third quarter and finished with 15 to tie Markham for team-high honors. Christensen had nine of his 11 points for Atlantic in the second half.
Briar Evans had 13 points and seven rebounds to pace Creston, which shot just 20 percent (2 of 10) in the final period while being outscored 13-4. It had only two points in the final six minutes.
“They were killing us on the boards all night,” Panther coach Billy Hiatt said. “They're physical size got to us, and we started pressing it a little bit. They just wore us down.”
Atlantic claimed the win, but Creston still sits alone atop the Hawkeye Ten Conference standings. Tuesday's contest was a nonconference game, meaning the Panthers (5-0) still hold a slim lead over the Trojans (5-1), Carroll Kuemper (4-1) and Harlan Community (4-1) in league play.
Creston travels to Atlantic for the Hawk-10 game on Feb. 8. Both teams start five seniors and expect to be in the thick of the conference title race when they meet again in a month.
“We're ready,” Franken said. “We've got it marked on the calendar already, and I'm sure they do, too.”
Atlantic (10-1).....................................4 11 19 13—47
Creston (9-1)..................................12 4 20 4—40
A: Markham 6-13 3-4 15, Christensen 4-4 2-3 11, S. Hoegh 2-3 0-0 4, Franken 7-16 0-1 15, H. Hoegh 1-7 0-2 2, Nelson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-44 5-10 47.
C: Thomsen 3-6 2-3 9, Taylor 3-1 0-0 8, Somers 1-3 1-2 3, Neitzel 3-6 1-2 7, Evans 5-10 2-5 13, Ca. Thompson 0-1 0-0 0, Cook 0-0 0-0 0, Co. Thompson 0-1 0-0 0, Wolfe 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-38 6-12 40.
3-point goals: A 2-8 (Markham 0-3, Christensen 1-1, Franken 1-4), C 4-13 (Thomsen 1-4, Taylor 2-5, Somers 0-1, Evans 1-2, Ca. Thompson 0-1). Rebounds: A 28 (Markham 8), C 22 (Evans 7). Assists: A 4 (Markham, Christensen, Franken, H. Hoegh 1), C 7 (Thomsen, Somers, Neitzel 2). Turnovers: A 11, C 14. Total fouls: A 11, C 12. Fouled out: None.