A single stumble against an unrelenting wave creates the danger of washing away all progress.
The Marshalltown Community College men's basketball team threatened NJCAA Division I No. 1 Indian Hills Community College on numerous occasions late, but simply couldn't overcome the Warriors in a closer-than-the-final-score defeat, 91-73, on Saturday night to open ICCAC D-I play.
MCC (7-14, 0-1) trailed Indian Hills (20-1, 1-0) by as few as four points with under 8 minutes to play and were within single digits with less than 4 minutes on the clock, but couldn't muster enough to overtake the fast, deep, strong and athletic Warriors.
"We weren't quite physical enough when they came at us at times, but we did enough to be in the game and win the game," said MCC head coach Brynjar Brynjarsson. "We just didn't take care of the ball in certain spots to really deserve to win the game.
"We did enough, but we didn't finish anything."
The Tigers pulled within four, 68-64, on Nilson Santana's basket with 7:46 on the clock, but a 3-pointer from Gary Ricks, Jr. and a three-point play from Brandon Spearman fueled a 7-0 Indian Hills run that eclipsed just 40 seconds.
"It came down to our defense and then we had those turnovers," said MCC sophomore Rashaad Brown-Peterson, who finished with 12 points.
"It went from (down) four to 11 in a couple seconds."
MCC pulled back to within eight just a few minutes later, but Spearman hit from distance on back-to-back possessions to give Indian Hills all the breathing room it would need on a night when it went 29-of-40 from the free-throw line.
MCC, on the other hand, was 10-of-21 from the charity stripe.
"You're not going to win many games like that," noted Brynjarsson.
The Tigers struggled all evening to solve the Warriors' full-court press that trapped and hounded them into turnover after turnover.
"From the get-go, I thought we were a little out of sync because we were not doing what we had planned on doing against the press," Brynjarsson said. "The game was going fine, but we weren't doing what we were supposed to."
MCC used an 8-0 run midway through the first half to take a 22-21 lead, but left points at the line when DJ Anderson, one of MCC's best foul shooters, made just 1-of-4 free throws after a Warriors foul and technical.
Indian Hills then ripped off a run that looked to spell disaster for MCC, which fell behind 45-31 3 minutes before the break.
Undeterred, the Tigers pulled within 45-39 with just a minute before heading to the locker room.
But once again the quick-strike Indian Hills offense pushed the lead back to 11 with five points in the half's final 45 seconds.
"We just got caught up in the speed of the game," Brynjarsson said of the late-half collapse.
It was out of halftime, however, that MCC had its best chance to wrestle control of the game from the physical Warriors.
Indian Hills didn't have a made field goal for the half's first 6 minutes, but MCC was unable to take full advantage, scoring just 12 points of their own over that span.
"That stretch right there was kind of the key to the game because we played well enough, but we didn't get any points out of it," said Brynjarsson.
MCC once again fell behind by double digits, only to fight back to within four before finally succumbing to Indian Hills, which had its 19-game winning streak snapped the game prior to visiting a full and electric Student Activity Center.
"There was no doubt in my mind we were going to claw back into the game," Brynjarsson said, "but once you claw back in you can't let up and the biggest thing is you cannot turn the ball over for points."
Jameel McKay led Indian Hills, one of the nation's highest scoring teams, with 19 points while Spearman added 15 and Roderick Bobbit 11.
Derrick Stewart paced MCC with 21 points, Sherman Blanford had nine and Nilson Santana, Marcus Bell and Anderson added eight apiece.
MCC had two more made field goals than Indian Hills (29 vs. 27), but the Warriors had more 3s (8 vs. 5) and an extra 19 points at the free-throw line.
"I feel bad for them because they worked hard to get ready for the game and then we went away from what we wanted to do," said Brynjarsson.
The Tigers return to the court Wednesday against the Waldorf College JV on the road. MCC doesn't have another conference game until Feb. 4, when Iowa Western comes to town.
Because of Southeastern's forfeiture of the season, MCC has just three more conference games to try and earn at least a home game in the postseason.
"We've got a lot of people on the team with a good head on their shoulders," Brown-Peterson said, "so they'll be able to pick it up."