The Marshalltown Community College men's basketball team wishes it could practice like it plays.
The Tigers managed to shrug off a lackluster start with a big run early in the second half to run away with a 76-57 victory over Ellsworth CC inside the Student Activity Center.
MCC (9-18) shuffled through the game's first 25 minutes with uninspired play until a 15-2 run broke the game open by the midway point of the second stanza.
"We play harder in practice every day than those 25 minutes," said MCC guard Derrick Stewart, who finished with 18 points for the Tigers.
"We've just got to come out and play hard."
Translating the work it has put in during practice to contests has been a reoccurring problem for MCC, which came into the night having lost back-to-back games by an average margin of 28 points.
The Tigers lacked intensity and crispness throughout much of the first half, playing as though content to let the Panthers (10-14) hang close.
"At halftime I told them that we're practicing harder than we play right now and that's not a good thing," said MCC head coach Brynjar Brynjarsson. "It's just disappointing to come everyday when you're not even playing in the games and all of a sudden here we are and we don't look like we had been in practice."
The Tigers found their remedy 4 minutes after the break when five different players contributed to the 15-2 run that put MCC up eight.
The Panthers managed to creep back within five, 55-50, with 7 minutes remaining, but MCC responded with a 3-pointer from Stewart that sparked a 8-2 run to create some more breathing room as the defense allowed ECC to score just five points over the final 5 minutes of the night.
Stewart hit five triples on the evening.
"Stew really came out and played hard," Brynjarsson said. "He needs to take what (opponents) give him. He opens it up a little bit for us."
The win was the first in nearly two weeks for a Tigers team that lost to Iowa Western by 25 and NJCAA D-I No. 3 Indian Hills by 31 in their last two times out.
"We've just had a hard time getting in the flow of things. It goes all the way back to the Iowa Western game," Brynjarsson noted. "I would say it's been about a two-week funk."
"I would hate to say that our confidence is shaken," he added.
Their confidence may be intact, but the Tigers know with an 0-3 ICCAC D-I record, they're behind in the Region XI race.
"We just feel like we've got a chip on our shoulder," said Stewart. "We're the underdog. We got to scratch, claw, we got to get out. We just got to work."
Nilson Santana finished with a game-high 19 points for MCC while Idaho signee Marcus Bell scored all 12 of his points in the second half with Vandals associate head coach Ray Lopes in attendance.
Sherman Blanford scored 11 first-half points for the Tigers.
Malcolm Canada scored 15 points off the bench to lead the Panthers, who were swept in the season series this year by MCC.
The Tigers will hit the road for a contest Wednesday against North Central Missouri College before returning home for perhaps the final time this season against Quakerdale Promise Academy on Saturday.
MCC wraps up conference and regular season play Feb. 25 in Council Bluffs against Iowa Western.