Neal, Beloit outlast Craig in two overtimes

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Eric Schmoldt
Friday, December 20, 2013

JANESVILLE--Make room for another chapter in the Janesville Craig-Beloit Memorial rivalry.

In a game that featured wild swings throughout, the Purple Knights’ surge in double overtime ended yet another thriller with the Cougars.

Beloit senior Andre Neal scored nine of his game-high 24 points in the second extra session to lead his team to a 98-89 victory Friday night. The critical Big Eight road win kept Beloit at 4-2 and tied for second place, one game behind Madison Memorial. Craig fell to 3-3.

“The rivalry is back,” Beloit coach Jay Bryant said. “It’s too bad one team had to lose, because both teams really fought hard tonight. Our kids never give up.”

Indeed, despite once having a double-digit lead at halftime, the Knights had to claw their way through the final few minutes just to force overtime.

The Cougars trailed by 11 at halftime but worked all the way back throughout the second half. Nolan Maresch’s free throws gave them the lead with 6:45 left, and his easy bucket with two minutes left put them up 70-61.

It appeared they were are their way to a come-from-behind victory.

Instead, Beloit went on a 9-0 run, forcing a pair of turnovers and going 3-for-3 from the field late to tie it up. Craig’s 3-pointer with three seconds left in regulation rattled out.

“We left a lot of points on the free-throw line,” said Craigcoach Mike Miller, whose team was 17 of 32 from the charity stripe. “We got up nine points, and we should be able to hold that lead. But we didn’t take care of the ball. Those are things we’ve got to go back and work on.”

The two teams traded leads in the first overtime, and Beloit led by two points with 13.4 seconds left when Craig earned a trip to the line.

Logan Carlson made his first free throw but missed his second. However, Cougars junior Kejuan Green grabbed a clutch offensive rebound, was fouled and made a free throw to tie the game.

The Cougars blocked a shot in the waning seconds at the other end to force a second overtime.

“It was a game of runs is what it was,” Bryant said. “Draylen Fair makes us go. He runs, gets defensive stops and sets people up. He’s giving these guys easy passes all night.”

Fair had 21 for the Knights, who turned to their leading scorer, Neal, in the second overtime.

He opened the second OT with a big 3-pointer, and he was fouled on the next possession, making two free throws to gain a two-possession advantage. The Knights never lost their lead again.

“He made really great passes tonight,” Bryant said of the guard who was 0-for-5 after halftime before overtime began. “He’s become a team player, and when we needed buckets, he hit them.”

Craig senior Jerry Ngobi led his team with 23 points, while Mike Murphy had 19. The Cougars got solid outings from junior forwards Ross Smith (12 points) and Green (9), but both fouled out, leaving Craig with a short bench late.

“The IQ with everybody was there,” Ngobi said. “We took a loss tonight, but we had a really good game. We should have a good break and come back really strong.

“It’s a Big Eight game, and Beloit’s our rival, so that’s the type of game you’re going to get.”

Mark the calenders for Feb. 7. That’s when Craig returns the trip to Beloit.

“We’ve had close games the last few years,” Miller said. “We had one decided on a half-court shot a couple years ago, we won on a last-second layup last year, and now they win this one in double-overtime.

“It is a rivalry again.”

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