Craig's upset bid falls short

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Ben Worgull
Special to the Gazette
Saturday, March 4, 2017

One by one Janesville Craig's boys basketball players streamed out of the visiting locker room in silence, white wind jackets on, blue backpacks with their shoes tucked into the mesh, for some never to be worn again in a high school career.

After playing a near-perfect half of basketball and still coming up just short, there wasn't much left to say.

“What you saw was two very good teams playing, two teams with seniors who make plays,” Craig head coach Mike Miller said after his sixth-seeded Cougars lost 82-79 to third-seeded Middleton in a WIAA Division 1 regional final Saturday night. “I give them credit; they obviously one or two more plays than we did.”

Senior guard San'Trell Payton scored 22 points and senior forward Adam Anhold had 13 of his 19 in the second half for Craig (16-8), which erased a six-point deficit to make it a back-and-forth slugfest over the final five minutes between two Big Eight Conference teams.

“We knew the game was going to be close, because we all wanted it,” Payton said. “The one thing is to win, so we tried to play our hardest. We knew we had to bring the best of our abilities to get the job done. We just came up short.”

Senior forward Tyree Eady scored 24 points to lead all scorers for Middleton, and senior point guard Storm Murphy scored 14 of his 19 in the first half. But it was the role players that lifted the Cardinals (18-6) to Thursday's sectional semifinal against second-seeded Madison Memorial.

Held scoreless in the first half, junior Brogan Brunker scored 14 points, including six in the final two minutes, while senior Myron Ashford Jr. (five points) hit a 3-pointer with 42.1 seconds left that put Middleton up 78-75.

“They stepped up and made plays when they needed to,” Miller said. “Just a good high school basketball game.”

The combination of Eady and Murphy helped Middleton lead by four at halftime. Eady delivered three three-point plays and Murphy scored 12 of his 14 first-half points from the perimeter, not to mention create offense by driving and dishing to open teammates.

But even when Middleton continued hitting from outside—draining 10 3-pointers in all— the Cougars stuck to their game plan of pounding the ball in to the low post and staying on the attack. It was a strategy that led to a big second half for Anhold, a 20-for-26 effort as a team from the free-throw line and Payton getting open looks on the perimeter.

That helped the Cougars stay within four points for the final three minutes, and they got Eady to foul out of the game with 1:22 remaining.

“It was a big thing having Eady foul out,” said Payton, who drew the fifth foul with an aggressive drive to the hoop. “It's taking a scorer off the court and having one guy do something with the ball.

“But other guys stepped up on the team.”

Craig never led after the 6-0 run, but the Cougars never withered when Middleton appeared to deliver knockout punches. After Payton converted a three-point play to tie the score at 75 with 58.6 seconds left, Craig collapsed on dribble penetration and left Ashford open in the corner for his huge 3-pointer.

Trading buckets on the next two possessions, Craig appeared finished when junior Blake McCann's 3-pointer was off to the right, leading to Ashford getting the rebound and getting fouled with 5.6 seconds left.

But the plot thickened when Ashford missed both attempts, keeping the score 80-77. Then senior Jake Negus was fouled attempting a half-court heave with 2.8 seconds remaining.

Negus calmly made the first two, but a timeout by Middleton coach Kevin Bavery was well-timed. Negus missed the third and tying free throw, and Craig was unable to get another tying shot off after two Middleton free throws.

“I told him to keep his head up because we still had time on the clock,” Payton said. “After the game I told him I loved him. We've been playing together for a while, especially with this team. A big thing for us was to fall down, take it to heart and let him know life goes on.”


Craig (79)—Payton 6-7-22, Lynch 4-4-13, Blomgren 3-0-7, Ngobi 1-2-4, Negus 4-2-11, Anhold 7-5-19, McCann 1-0-3. Totals: 26-20-79.

Middleton (82)—Murphy 6-3-19, Eady 9-6-24, Ashford 2-0-5, Brunker 5-2-14, Fermanich 3-0-7, Jackson 4-3-13. Totals: 29-14-82.

Janesville Craig 34 45—79

Middleton 38 44—82

Three-point goals—C 7 (Payton 3, Blomgren, Lynch, McCann, Negus), M 10 (Muprhy 4, Brunker 2, Jackson 2, Ashford, Fermanich). Free throws missed—C 6, M 6. Total fouls—C 18, M 18. Fouled out—Blomgren, Eady, Smith (M).

Last updated: 10:06 pm Saturday, March 4, 2017

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