Madison La Follette boys basketball coach Curtrel Robinson wanted his team to establish its full-court, man-to-man pressure right from the start Thursday night.
Donneil Gray was more than happy to set that defensive tone.
The 5-foot-9 senior guard used his quickness to fluster Janesville Craig’s guards, turning two steals into baskets while scoring 10 of the game’s first 13 points.
Host La Follette scored the first 13 points in the initial 3 minutes, 56 seconds, and never was threatened during a 91-75 Big Eight Conference victory.
“We just had to come into the game and we had to play `D,’ “ Gray said. “We’ve been lacking on `D.’ We still gave up 75 points. … But I definitely think our defense was there at the beginning. We got a huge lead — almost up to 30.”
Gray and junior guard Ben Probst each sank four 3-pointers and finished with 25 points apiece, while senior guard Troy Reeves had 17 points for the Lancers (4-1 overall, 4-1 Big Eight).
La Follette, which won its third consecutive game, built a 33-8 lead with 5:10 left in the first half before taking a 39-22 lead into halftime. The Lancers opened a 51-26 lead in the second half.
“We’ve been stressing with this group the last couple games that our defense hasn’t been up to par with our group’s athletic ability,” Robinson said. “We worked hard this last week on that. We emphasized that. I was very pleased with how we stepped up. We were hungry.
“We made it very difficult for Craig to get it up the court. We did a good job breaking their guards down. I was very excited about that. I was very happy how we started the game.”
Sophomore guard Angelo Rizzo scored all 18 of his points in the second half for Craig (4-2, 3-2). Senior guard Jack Huml had scored 14 points and 6-4 senior forward Jake Fieiras had 12 points, 10 in the first half.
Probst had 12 points in the first half and 13 in the second. Gray made three 3-pointers and scored 16 first-half points.
“I’ve been working on my 3-pointer a lot,” said Gray, whose twin brothers Derrick and David Gray are juniors on the team.
Donneil Gray scored the game’s first seven points in the first 2:25 — scoring on a steal and layin; a 15-foot jumper; a free throw after he was fouled on a drive to the basket following teammate Drekwon Smith’s steal; and another steal and layin.
“We’ve talked to him about `buying into your speed and athleticism’ and picking their pockets, too,” Robinson said. “He’s a tough guard, a tough kid. It was good to see him come back in this game like that tonight.”
Probst and Gray made 3-pointers, boosting the lead to 13-0. Reeves’ putback of his own miss gave La Follette a 15-1 lead with 13:09 remaining in the first half.
“We kind of composed ourselves a little bit,” Cougars coach Ben McCormick said after falling behind 15-1. “They are a really good team — really solid all the way around. (They have) great quickness. That bothered us, especially early, that really bothered us. It took us a while to adjust. We never really got within striking distance after the first five minutes.
“It was a little frustrating. I know our guys feel we are capable of more. It was one of those nights. Give them a ton of credit. They hit shots and turned us over.”
La Follette and Craig entered the game in a four-way tie for second place, one game behind leader Madison East. Afterward, La Follette, Madison Memorial and Sun Prairie remained in second, still one game behind East. Craig fell two games behind East.
“I would have liked to get a few more post touches,” McCormick said. “But with their defense we didn’t get that established. They had a substantial lead and made it tough.”
Janesville Craig 22 53 — 75
Madison La Follette 39 52 — 91
JANESVILLE CRAIG — Christiansen 0 2-2 2, Huml 5 0-0 14, Bertagnoli 5 0-1 10, Leverson 1 4-6 6, Lynch 2 5-6 9, Ronde 0 2-2 2, Fieiras 5 2-5 12, Scoville 0 2-2 2, Rizzo 6 4-5 18. Totals 24 20-27 75.
MADISON LA FOLLETTE — Do. Gray 9 3-5 25, Smith 2 0-0 5, Cameron 1 1-4 3, Ingram 2 0-0 4, Reeves Jr. 7 1-1 17, Probst 7 7-7 25, Stewart 1 4-6 6, Kunkel 1 2-2 4, Da. Gray 1 0-0 2. Totals 31 18-27 91.
3-point goals — JC 7 (Huml 4, Rizzo 3), ML 11 (Do, Gray 4, Probst 4, Reeves Jr. 2, Smith 1). Total fouls — ML 23, JC 20. Fouled out — Bertagnoli.