Mother Nature saved the Janesville Craig High boys basketball team a trek to Burlington on Monday night.
The Cougars then made the most of an unexpected home game, with Jacob Ngobi and Luke Malmanger carrying the load during Tuesday’s nonconference makeup tilt against the Demons.
Malmanger broke up a Burlington fast break to set up Ngobi’s game-clinching free throws with just over a second left as Craig pulled out a 56-55 win over the Demons on Bob Suter Court.
The Cougars trailed by six with two-and-a-half minutes left but unleashed their half-court trapping defense to force several turnovers. Ngobi made a right-corner 3-pointer over two defenders to cut the deficit to one with 22 seconds left and earned a trip to the line with 1.2 seconds remaining after being fouled as he was about to launch a potential game-winning shot from the top of the arc.
The senior, who scored 15 of his game-high 22 points in the second half, made all three free throws.
“I know I’m biased, but I thought it was the right call,” Craig coach Ben McCormick said. “He was going up. He was going to shoot the ball; there was only a second left in the game.”
Seconds earlier, Burlington had a chance to end Craig’s comeback attempt when Grant Tully gathered a defensive rebound and appeared to have a path to an uncontested layup. But Malmanger raced back and managed to alter Tully’s shot attempt, giving the Cougars the ball with 5.7 seconds remaining.
“The difference between winning and losing, especially at the end of the game, is just those little things,” McCormick said.
Burlington never got a chance to retake the lead as its last-gasp heave found the hands of Malmanger, who spiked the ball as the clock ran out.
Craig (9-9) won consecutive games for the first time this season, while Burlington fell to 9-8.
Malmanger scored 18 points, and Jack Huml and Seth Glissendorf each added six in the win. The Cougars were without leading scorer Blake McCann (20.8 points per game), who sat out with a back injury.
“Other guys needed to step up to fill that void,” McCormick said. “Blake’s obviously a very good player for us and guys look to him a lot. Collectively, I think you’ve got to fill his shoes, which is easier said than done.”
Sean Safar led Burlington with 16 points, while Trey Krause added 15 points on five 3-pointers.
Krause hit back-to-back 3s in the first half to fire up the Demons bench and give the visitors a 27-18 lead. Craig trailed by six points at halftime but pulled even, 36-36, on Ngobi’s wide-open 3 from the left wing.
Burlington shot 41 percent from the field, while Craig shot 37 percent.
“It wasn’t an incredibly well-played game, I don’t think, by either team, but we did just enough at the end to pull it out,” McCormick said.
Tuesday’s game was originally scheduled for Monday at Burlington High. Poor road conditions caused the game to be moved back a day, and a subsequent scheduling conflict prompted the switch to Janesville.
Craig finishes the regular season with four Big Eight Conference games, beginning Thursday at home against Beloit Memorial. The Cougars lost to the Purple Knights 49-47 on Dec. 16.
CRAIG 56, BURLINGTON 55
Burlington (55)—Tully 1-0-3, Safar 5-4-16, Krause 5-0-15, Pesick 1-0-2, Webley 2-6-10, Turzenski 3-3-9. Totals: 17-13-55.
Craig (56)—Huml 2-0-6, Ngobi 8-3-22, Glissendorf 3-0-6, Malmanger 6-4-18, Ronde 2-0-4. Totals: 21-7-56.
Burlington 29 26—55
Janesville Craig 23-33—56
3-point goals—Burlington 8 (Krause 5, Safar 2, Tully 1), Craig 7 (Ngobi 3, Malmanger 2, Huml 2). Free throws missed—Burlington 6, Craig 2. Total fouls—Burlington 10, Craig 14.