The opening minutes of any basketball season tend to be a bit of a feeling-out process.
During a global pandemic, with players wearing masks and playing in front of few, if any, fans, that undertaking might just take a little longer.
It took about nine minutes for Martin Luther’s boys team to gain traction Tuesday night, but the Spartans raced away from there against a Janesville Craig team that never got fully untracked. The Spartans won 80-61 in a nonconference game on Bob Suter Court in Craig’s gym.
“They’re a really good team, very athletic and play really well together. They did a lot of good things,” Craig coach Ben McCormick said. “I think we can play better, and our guys know that. We did not shoot the ball particularly well, and the second half especially, we just had some individual breakdowns defensively.”
The score was tied 13-13 midway through the first half.
From there, though, Martin Luther scored points on 11 of its next 12 possessions—including six baskets in the paint—to put together a 24-5 run that took less than six minutes.
Craig hoped to cut into its 16-point halftime deficit coming out of the break, but the Spartans continued to score at the rim and eventually stretched its lead into the 30s.
It was evident the Cougars are still working to build chemistry.
District rules prevented them from practicing in groups of more than four until Monday, so five-on-five workouts have not been possible for Janesville’s teams, which combined to go 0-4 in their openers Tuesday.
“It makes it difficult,” McCormick said. “Our kids love those sessions, but they’re also just trying to jell together. We’re trying to do that two-on-two and then transfer it over, and it’s not as easy as that sounds. We’ve got to learn to move on offense and play together.
“But I was proud of our guys, especially the ones that came in at the end and competed and cut the deficit down.”
Junior Da’marcus DeValk hit several late 3-pointers for Craig and finished with a team-high 21 points, while senior Angelo Rizzo scored 13 of his 16 after halftime and Marshaun Harriel finished with 10.
Sophomore Demerius Shakur led all scorers with 22 for Martin Luther.
“We have a lot of things to work on,” McCormick said. “But the good news is our guys understand that and are not down in the dumps. It’s going to be a long season.
“Last year, we sort of started the same way. And by the end of the year, we got a lot better. We’re still feeling our way, but we’re hoping by next Monday against East Troy we can fix some of these things.”
MARTIN LUTHER 80, CRAIG 61
Martin Luther (80)—Shakur 8-4-22, Burris 5-5-15, Davis 3-0-9, Russell 2-0-6, Campbell 5-0-11, Povlick 1-0-3, Strohmeier 0-2-2, Beamon 5-1-12. Totals: 29-12-80.
Craig (61)—Clark 2-0-6, DeValk 6-5-21, Harriel 4-2-10, Bertagnoli 1-0-2, Brown 0-1-1, Stried 1-0-2, Rizzo 7-0-16, Currie 0-1-1, Bock 1-0-2. Totals: 22-9-61.
Martin Luther 42 38—80
Janesville Craig 26 35—61
3-point goals—ML 10 (Davis 3, Shakur 2, Russell 2, Campbell, Povlick, Beamon), JC 8 (DeValk 4, Rizzo 2, Clark 2). Free throws missed—ML 3, JC 7. Total fouls—ML 15, JC 15.