Madison La Follette senior Derek Gray kept his eyes on the rim, just in case teammate Ben Probst’s shot on a drive to the basket didn’t go through.
And when the shot rolled off, the 6-foot Gray was ready to spring.
Gray’s tip-in with 54.5 seconds remaining gave the host La Follette boys basketball team a one-point lead and proved to be the winning basket in a 58-55 victory against Madison West in a Big Eight Conference opener Friday night.
“I just knew it was a tough shot for Ben,” Gray said. “We always work on crashing the boards. So, I crashed the boards and (the ball) was just there for the tip-in.”
Probst, a 6-1 senior, and 6-6 sophomore Juok Riak had 11 points apiece for the Lancers (2-0 overall, 1-0 Big Eight), who rallied in the second half and then overcame the Regents’ furious comeback down the stretch. Riak and senior David Gray, Derek’s twin who scored 10 points, added offensive punch off the bench. Derek Gray totaled nine points.
Dayne Armwald, a 6-3 senior forward who was the conference’s scoring leader last season, had a game-high 16 points for the Regents (0-1, 0-1) — who led by as many as 10 points in the first half and were on top 28-23 at halftime. Sophomore guard Jerome Jacobs scored 14 points and junior guard Josh Bowman had 12 points.
“A lot of our guys never had varsity experience, so I’m happy playing what I consider one of the top teams in the conference and playing them that way,” Regents coach Keith Stewart said. “One play could have put us over the top. We were right there.”
The Lancers, picked for second place behind Madison East in a preseason poll by league coaches, increased their man-to-man pressure in the second half.
“That’s what we talked about at the half — being a bit more attentive to our defensive habits, getting in the passing lanes, just being tough around the rim and just stepping up defensively,” La Follette coach Curtrel Robinson said. “We knew we would wear them down eventually.”
Said Derek Gray: “In the locker room (at halftime), we knew we could play better defense than this and we could play better on the offensive end. It was silent in there. We knew what we had to do and there was not much talking.”
Senior forward Dakovin Prather’s tip-in and Derek Gray’s basket on a drive increased the Lancers’ lead to 54-45 with 3 minutes, 50 seconds left.
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But the Regents stormed back, scoring 10 unanswered points.
Senior forward James Richmond started the rally, making four free throws on two possessions. Bowman completed a fast break with a layup, then Jacobs’ putback pulled the Regents within 54-53 with 1:41 left.
Armwald scored a bucket on the break, giving West a 55-54 lead with 1:16 remaining.
After Derek Gray’s go-ahead basket, West missed two shots. La Follette senior Isaiah Stewart, who had all eight of his points in the second half, made two free throws and the Lancers led 58-55 with 9.0 seconds remaining.
The ball was knocked loose on West’s final possession and the Regents couldn’t get off a shot after a wild scramble.
Stewart said three of West’s key players — Benjamin Davis, James Hughes and Demond Thompson — weren’t available Friday.
“The guys stepped up,” Stewart said about his team. “La Follette is scrappy. I give them a lot of credit. They scratched and clawed and got back in it.”
Robinson, whose team was among the honorable mention choices in WisSports.net’s Division 1 preseason rankings, said he believes West will be a dark-horse contender in league play.
Madison West 28 27 — 55
Madison La Follette 23 35 — 58
MADISON WEST (fg ft-fta pts) — Jacobs 7 0-0 14, Bowman 5 1-2 12, Berry 1 0-0 3, Richmond 2 4-4 8, Osterberg 1 0-0 2, Armwald 8 0-1 16. Totals 24 5-7 55.
MADISON LA FOLLETTE — De. Gray 3 3-4 9, Da. Gray 5 0-0 10, Stewart 2 3-4 8, Probst 5 0-0 11, Prather 3 0-4 6, Riak 5 1-4 11, Lashore 1 0-0 3. Totals 24 7-16 58.
3-point goals: MW 2 (Bowman 1, Berry 1); MLF 3 (Stewart 1, Probst 1, Lashore 1). Total fouls: MW 17; MLF 13.