Find a way.
That was the mantra left for the Marshalltown Community College men's basketball team.
After a near-brilliant first half, every which way the Tigers turned became a dead end.
A devastating start to the second half gave way to late-game shortcomings as MCC fell to NJCAA Division II No. 4 Kirkwood, 60-55, Tuesday night inside the Student Activity Center.
The Tigers (6-6) led as late as the 2:30 mark and had a chance to tie in the waning seconds, but came up empty to the Eagles (7-1) for the second time this season.
"We've got to find a way to overcome. We've got to find a way to put the ball in the basket," said MCC head coach Brynjar Brynjarsson. "We're going to find a way to get over this hump, and that's the only way I know how to describe it."
MCC led 52-51 with under 3 minutes to play when Matt Tiby hit a go-ahead layup, but the Tigers had chance to take the lead on the ensuing possession before Keith Coleman missed the front-end of a one-and-one opportunity.
Kirkwood's Matt Weber then dribbled atop the 3-point arc before being left alone to bury the shot to put KCC up four with under a minute to play.
"We didn't communicate," said Brynjarsson of Weber getting open. "You can't do that with 58 seconds left in the game."
"Weber made that shot. Whether he was open or not," he added, "the game was on the line. That's what good players do."
Still, after a Matej Delinac 3 and a missed one-and-one by Kirkwood's Antoine Howard, the Tigers had a chance to tie, trailing 58-55 with 6.7 seconds remaining.
MCC couldn't get anyone to break loose, however, and Rashaad Brown offered up an off-balanced shot inside the 3-point arc that missed its target before KCC's Gage Heffernan added two free throws to provide for the final margin.
"It just took a little too long to develop," said Brynjarsson of the final play.
While MCC had its chances late, it was the start of the second half that started them down the path to defeat.
Leading 32-25 at the break, the Tigers came out of the locker room flat and surrendered a 17-3 run to Kirkwood that put the Eagles up seven points 7 minutes in.
A sluggish start after halftime doomed MCC in its 60-56 loss to State Fair last weekend.
"We can't have lulls like that to start the second half. It's just too hard to come back," Brynjarsson said. "We take so long to fight ourselves out of a funk like that and move on to the next play, put it behind us and let's go."
MCC managed its way back to knot the score thanks to a 12-5 run capped by a Marcus Bell three-point play.
They took the lead twice in the game's final seven minutes, first on Nilson Santana's bucket in the paint at 6:20 and then on Derrick Stewart's 3 at 2:30, but didn't have enough to overcome the 5-foot-9 Weber's game-changing long ball - his only 3 of the night.
"Really, I thought the pivotal moment was our little guy, who is our best three-point shooter, making a shot," said Eagles head coach Doug Wagemester. "Hard-fought game. Not a lot of points, but I thought it was entertaining."
Those 7 poor minutes out of halftime erased a fantastic effort on both sides of the floor by MCC.
The Eagles didn't need the second column on the scoreboard until 12 minutes into the contest, falling behind 19-9 to a Tigers squad that made stops on the defensive end and turned those into transition opportunities.
Even in the half-court, Marshalltown moved the ball deftly and found production from nearly every position.
"We looked pretty good at times," said Brynjarsson. "We set better screens, we found a way to get the ball inside, we got some stuff to the rim, we finished plays. We shared the ball fairly well, we took some open shots.
"That's really what we're all about."
Delinac scored 15 to lead MCC while Bell added 13.
Kirkwood was led by Tiby, who scored 24 points despite being limited to one field goal and six points in the first half.
"I thought (Tiby) really hurt us and went by our post players," Brynjarsson said. "We didn't put a body on him and get physical and keep him away from the rim."
Tiby found most of his success catching the ball at the high post and penetrating his way to the rim, getting seven buckets and going 4-of-4 from the line in the second half.
"One thing I really like about Matt is he keeps coming back. He keeps coming back for more," said Wagemester. "He was the difference in the middle when we weren't making any jump shots, for sure."
Kirkwood defeated MCC 69-58 two weeks ago in Cedar Rapids.
"Really, the games, in a lot of ways, similar," said Wagemester. "They controlled the first half, then we were able to make a few more shots in the second half."
Now, MCC will look to chart its path at the Emerson JUCO Shootout at home this weekend with a pair of games, starting Saturday against Rock Valley.
"I told the guys, they have every right to be disappointed (Tuesday night), but (today) we're going to come back, we're going to get better," said Brynjarsson. "We're going to find a way to play a good team on Saturday at four o'clock here at home.
"And we're going to find a way to get better."