East rallied to top Craig boys in overtime
JANESVILLE He’s usually the smallest kid on the floor, but he comes up big when the game is on the line.
Nimrod Hilliard IV, a 5-11 super-slim sophomore, propelled Madison East’s surging boys basketball team to another overtime win Thursday night—this time a 75-71 thriller at the expense of Janesville Craig in the Cougar gym.
East pulled out a 58-57 victory over Sun Prairie on Tuesday when Hilliard scored with 1.6 seconds left. The fifth-ranked Purgolders (16-2, 14-2) now have won 14 straight and remain a game behind Madison Memorial (17-1, 14-1) in the Big Eight race as the two head toward a Feb. 26 showdown in a regular-season finale.
Hilliard scored 17 of his game-high 28 points against Craig (8-9, 7-8) in the fourth quarter and overtime. That included a 4-for-4 performance from the free-throw line when the game was on the line in overtime.
Craig had double-digit leads several times, but East would not surrender. Heading into the fourth quarter after the Cougars had built a 49-37 lead, Hilliard sank a three-point goal to start East’s comeback.
The game was tied at 60-60 and 63-63 before East’s Marquis Mason stole the ball, drove the length of the floor and finished with a two-handed slam dunk to give the Purgolders a 65-63 lead with 21.6 second left in regulation play.
Craig took over and called a timeout with 10.5 seconds left and possession of the ball under the East basket.
“I called a play during that timeout, but he thought he could pull off a play we had used in practice,” Craig coach Bob Suter said of 6-3 senior Kyle Goike.
During practice this week, Suter passed the ball into the back of a player, picked it up and drove for a layup.
“Everyone got quite a chuckle out of that, but it was something we have worked on,” Suter said. “I told him if he saw an opportunity to go for it.”
Goike was running out of time trying to inbound the ball, so he bounced it off an East player, picked it up and sank a field goal to send the game into overtime.
The four-minute overtime was all Hilliard. Mason added a field goal, but Hilliard controlled the ball, and East made sure it was in his hands when Craig was forced to foul. Hilliard was 9-for-9 from the line, including the four in the overtime.
While Suter congratulated his players on a valiant effort, he reminded them that they could have won had they not repeated mistakes they have made all season.
“They went at our Achilles—our ball-handling—and their pressure took a toll on that,” Suter said.
The East full-court press came out in the final quarter, resulting in multiple Craig turnovers.
“You have to give East credit,’’ Suter said. “They have had I don’t know how many close ones, and they’ve won them all. That’s the mark of a good team.”
If defenses start to concentrate on Hilliard, Mason takes over for East. The 6-4 junior added 23 points and dominated play underneath.
Suter noted that the Cougar defense was able to contain Mason at times, and it forced a couple of charging fouls, but then Hilliard would start hitting long threes.
“Nothing fazes Hilliard and Mason,” Suter said. “They have enough confidence in their ability, and they have the ability to get the job done.”
The Cougars jumped out to an 8-0 lead, and despite several East runs, maintained a comfortable lead until Hilliard took over in the final 12 minutes.
A.J. Fredricks led the Cougars with 25 points, Brad Cagney added 16, and Goike finished with 13. JoJo Pregont also had 12 for Craig before fouling out in overtime.
EAST 75, CRAIG 71 (OT)
East (75)—Hilliard IV, 8-9-28; Bacallao, 3-1-7; Mason, 10-3-23; Galligan, 1-2-5; Hull, 1-0-2; McAdams, 1-0-2; Terry, 2-2-8. Totals: 26-17-75.
Craig (71)—Cagney, 6-2-16; Fredricks, 8-9-25; Goike, 5-0-13; Pregont, 4-4-12; Clanfield, 1-0-2; Lowe, 1-1-3. Totals: 25-16-71
Madison East 12 15 10 28 10—75
Janesville Craig 15 17 17 16 6—71
Three-point goals—East 6 (Hilliard IV 3, Terry 2, Galligan), Craig 5 (Cagney 2, Goike 3). Free throws missed—East 6, Craig 6. Total fouls—East 17, Craig 22. Fouled out—Pregont.
Sophomores—Craig 71, East 53. Craig leading scorers: Andy Kyle, 20; Myles Johnson, 16.