Ben McCormick knows how tough it is to win in the Big Eight Conference.
The Janesville Craig boys basketball coach has seen his team lose six straight conference games despite being competitive in most of them.
Saturday night, the Cougars ended the streak. Four players scored in double figures to lead Craig to a 73-66 win over Beloit Memorial.
In sweeping the season series with the Purple Knights, Craig improved to 7-6 overall and 4-6 in the Big Eight.
Craig had a chance to put the game away early in the second half as the lead stretched to 14, but Beloit (3-10, 2-8) stormed back behind a tenacious defense and a slew of offensive rebounds. The Purple Knights cut the deficit to three with 20 seconds left and had the ball, but a missed 3-pointer and two Angelo Rizzo free throws ended the comeback attempt.
“It’s never easy to get a win in this league, and that’s what I told the guys afterward,” McCormick said. “We didn’t finish like we wanted to and struggled at the line, but it’s a win. They need to enjoy it.
“We let them hang around the second half and couldn’t quite get over the hump, but when we needed a stop or needed to make a play at the end, we did.”
Craig led from the start, building a 17-7 lead with 10:47 left in the first half. Seve Bertagnoli had a big first half for the Cougars, scoring 10 points and helping his team take a 37-26 lead.
Craig eventually pushed the lead to 64-50 on Caleb Scoville’s basket with six minutes left, but Beloit responded with a 13-3 run to slice the margin to four, 67-63, with 1:28 left.
The Cougars got two free throws each from Jacob Lynch, Rizzo and Aaron Leverson the last 1:14 to help end the conference losing skid.
Bertagnoli, Rizzo and Jack Huml had 12 points, while Leverson added 10.
“To be successful in this league, you have to have three or four guys in double figures, which we did tonight,” McCormick said. “That’s our goal each and every game. If you have to rely on one or two guys, teams will step up and take that away from you.
“We love that balance. What concerns me is picking things up on the defensive end. Beloit got 40 on us the second half tonight. That can’t happen.”
Craig hosts Mount Horeb in a nonconference game Tuesday night.
CRAIG 73, BELOIT 66
Beloit (66)—Ringer 5-0-10; Payne 3-2-8; Cook 5-3-13; Bell 6-2-18; Bach 2-0-4; Boyd 0-1-1; France 2-0-5; Ganiyu 1-1-3; Chandler 0-4-4. Totals: 24-13-66
Craig (73)—Huml 3-3-12; Bertagnoli 5-1-12; Fieiras 0-1-1; Leverson 2-4-10; Ronde 2-1-6; Scoville 4-0-8; Rizzo 5-2-12; Lynch 3-4-12. Totals: 24-16-73
Beloit Memorial 26 40—66
Janesville Craig 37 36—73
Three-point goals—Beloit 5 (Bell 4, France), Craig 9 (Huml 3, Leverson 2, Lynch 2, Bertagnoli, Ronde). Free throws missed—Beloit 11, Craig 12. Total fouls—Beloit 21, Craig 18. Fouled out—Cook