After the first seven games of the high school boys basketball season, Janesville Craig senior Jacob Ngobi admitted he and the Cougars were still struggling with trust issues.
They were 3-4, coming off an overtime loss at Beloit Memorial and weren’t fully trusting each other or the process of building back a program that lost all five of last year’s starters.
A victory over the No. 3-ranked team may just go a long way in helping the Cougars believe.
Ngobi scored 15 points and four different Craig players contributed when the team scored nine straight points late in the second half of a 45-41 Big Eight Conference victory over Madison Memorial on Bob Suter Court.
“We just trusted each other,” Ngobi said of the critical stretch with less than three minutes remaining. “We struggled with that throughout the season ... but once we started getting good shots and trusting each other and being patient, it got a lot better.
“We came into this game knowing that we can beat anyone in the Big Eight. We dropped a couple games that we shouldn’t have so far, but I think this is a win that will help us spark the run that we need.”
Craig is now 4-4 overall and 3-4 in league play. Madison Memorial suffered its first loss, falling to 7-1 and 6-1.
“I think the Beloit game taught us a few things about ourselves, and we got a little bit tougher in certain areas and guys embraced that,” Craig coach Ben McCormick said. “They believe they can play with anybody, and they showed that tonight. We made enough plays down the stretch to win it.”
Memorial survived a 7-0 deficit to start the game, tying it 11-11 midway through the first half. From there, neither team led by more than four until the final six minutes of the game.
The Spartans scored on three straight possessions at that point to go up 30-24, and they led 32-27 with 3:21 to play.
Craig senior Blake McCann (11 points) started the rally by juking a defender, reseting his feet and burying a 3-pointer. Junior Seve Bertagnoli followed by poking the ball away on defense, dribbling down the floor and converting a three-point play that gave the Cougars a 33-32 lead with 2:27 remaining.
The Spartans missed an inside shot attempt, and Ngobi transitioned down the floor for a layup and three-point lead, and senior Seth Glissendorf made the front end of a bonus trip to the free-throw line to close the 9-0 spurt and put Craig up 36-32 with 1:45 left.
“Guys made plays when they needed to make plays, and that’s what you’ve got to do to beat a team like that,” McCormick said.
Craig led by six points with less than a minute left, but Memorial’s Nick Caropreso—who had a team-high 13 points—hit a corner 3-pointer with 17 seconds left to cut it to one, 42-41.
But Ngobi calmly hit two free throws to make it a three-point game, and Memorial turned the ball over with less than 10 seconds left, never getting a chance to tie the game.
“This is huge for the morale,” Ngobi said. “We needed this win to get us going.”
Craig plays at DeForest in a nonconference game Thursday night.
CRAIG 45, MEMORIAL 41
Memorial (41)—Ellingson 2-6-10, Brown 4-0-8, Grays 2-0-5, Caropreso 5-2-13, Schaefer 2-1-5. Totals: 15-9-41.
Craig (45)—McCann 4-1-11, Huml 0-1-1, Bertagnoli 2-3-7, Ngobi 5-5-15, Glissendorf 0-1-1, Leverson 2-0-6, Ronde 2-0-4. Totals: 15-11-45.
Madison Memorial 15 26—41
Janesville Craig 14 31—45
Three-point goals—Memorial 2 (Grays, Caropreso), Craig 4 (McCann 2, Leverson 2). Free throws missed—Memorial 8, Craig 7. Total fouls—Memorial 16, Craig 18. Fouled out—Glissendorf.