Janesville Craig got an up-close look at one of the state’s best teams and one of its best players Thursday night.
Sun Prairie sophomore Jalen Johnson and the Cardinals are long, strong and—now that they’re healthy—a clear WIAA Division 1 state championship contender.
Johnson scored 13 of his game-high 23 points in the first half, and Sun Prairie built a 22-point lead by halftime and coasted to a 70-47 Big Eight Conference victory on Bob Suter Court.
The Cardinals are 14-1 overall and 11-1 in league play, tied at the top with Madison Memorial. Craig fell to 6-8 and 5-7.
“They have great length, great strength, great quickness—that’s a complete team, no doubt,” Craig coach Ben McCormick said. “I give our guys credit with how they battled back and did what we asked them to do. We just ran out of gas in the second half.”
The Cougars trailed by as many as 24 points in the second half after Johnson, the top sophomore in the state, splashed three jumpers, including a 3-pointer, in the opening three minutes.
Sun Prairie let off the gas pedal not long after, and Craig struck back back with a 14-4 run that got it within 11 points, 54-43.
Senior forward Luke Malmanger scored 11 of his 13 points during the second half. And senior Blake McCann, who led the team with 16 points, ended Craig’s key comeback stretch with one of his two 3-pointers.
But Sun Prairie called timeout and regrouped, and senior Marlon Ruffin scored four straight points to make sure Craig never got within single digits.
Ruffin finished with 14 points. Johnson, who did not play due to injury the first time Sun Prairie played Craig, went 10 of 14 from the floor, scoring most of his first-half points at the rim off offensive rebounds.
“I hadn’t seen Johnson play, in person in a Big Eight game, but he’s an excellent, excellent player,” McCormick said. “I can’t imagine there’s anyone better in the state than he is that’s a sophomore. Tremendous athlete, and as a team, they’re very solid all the way around.”
McCormick knew his team would need a hot-shooting night to hang with the Cardinals.
But in the first half, the Cougars were just 6 of 26 from the floor and turned the ball over 11 times. They went through a six-minute scoring drought where a 13-8 deficit grew to 26-8 with 2:58 left in the half.
“We told the guys after the game we didn’t fault their effort,” McCormick said. “But their pressure got to us. It was much better for us in the second half. We stopped trying to run some things we were running in the first half because they’re so long.”
Craig will look to get back on track Saturday night at home against Middleton.
SUN PRAIRIE 70, CRAIG 47
Sun Prairie (70)—Jansen 1-0-2, Williams 4-0-9, White 2-0-4, Hawk 0-2-2, C. Schaeffer 2-0-5, J. Johnson 10-2-23, Strey 1-2-4, Hale 5-3-14, Ruffin 5-3-14, Wherley 1-1-3, K. Johnson 1-0-2. Totals: 28-10-70
Craig (47)—McCann 7-0-16, Bertagnolli 1-0-2, Ngobi 2-0-4, Glissendorf 1-0-2, Malmanger 6-0-13, Leverson 1-3-6, Fieiras 1-0-2, Christensen 1-0-2. Totals: 20-3-47
Sun Prairie 35 35—70
Janesville Craig 13 34—47
3-point goals—Sun Prairie 4 (Williams, Schaeffer, Johnson, Ruffin), Craig 4 (McCann 2, Malmanger, Leverson). Free throws missed—Sun Prairie 2, Craig 3. Total fouls—Sun Prairie 13, Craig 16.