Madison Memorial's fourth-quarter surge too much for Craig
Other than its boys swim team, there has not been a more dominant athletic program in the Big Eight Conference than Madison Memorial boys basketball.
The Spartans have won 10 straight conference titles and came into Thursday night’s game with Janesville Craig alone in first place this season.
And although it took three quarters for the Spartans to heat up, they eventually made one of their patented runs to pull away from the Cougars.
Darral Willis scored 25 points and Travis Lindquist added 21 to lead Memorial to a 62-53 win.
Craig (5-6, 3-5) got 21 points from Jerry Ngobi but could not recover from a 14-3 Memorial run midway through the fourth quarter.
“The problem during that spurt was that when we did break their pressure, we had guys open to shoot that were hesitant to shoot,” Miller said. “Had we knocked down a two or three, we’re right there still, but we didn’t handle the pressure well enough and didn’t come back to the ball.
“Our frustration right now as a team is that we know we can play with anybody, but we’re just not finishing.”
Memorial (9-3, 7-1) trailed 45-43 early in the fourth before pulling away thanks to its relentless half-court pressure. The Cougars had five turnovers in the fourth, including three straight possessions, as a 10-1 Spartan run pushed the lead to 54-46 with 4:44 left to play.
The 6-foot-7 Willis had six straight points to cap the run, including a two-handed dunk that forced Miller to take a time out.
“Darral has probably improved more as a player from the time he was a freshman until his senior year than any other player I’ve ever had,” Memorial coach Steve Collins said. “He’s left-handed but couldn’t make a left-handed layup as a freshman. Now he’s going to end up playing Division I basketball.
“As a team, I thought we forgot to get off the bus the first half. We didn’t play well, and give Craig credit, they outhustled and outplayed us. Fortunately, we got after it in the fourth quarter and got some easy baskets because of our defense.”
Craig, behind nine points from Mike Murphy, led 16-12 after one. The Cougars maintained the lead in the second quarter and eventually led 29-26 at half.
The Cougars wrap up the first half of the Big Eight season at Middleton on Saturday night.