SUN PRAIRIE — There’s no denying Sun Prairie sophomore Jalen Johnson is a difference-maker.
That’s true whether the 6-foot-8 forward is scoring, rebounding, blocking shots — or bending the rim on a dunk, as he did during the second half of the Sun Prairie boys basketball team’s game against Madison La Follette on Thursday night.
But when Johnson enjoys a 6-inch height advantage over the tallest defender, that difference is magnified. The Cardinals repeatedly fed Johnson and he dominated inside, scoring 22 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and leading Sun Prairie to a 74-52 victory.
“We established Jalen inside,” Sun Prairie coach Jeff Boos said. “We knew they didn’t have the strength to take that away.”
Senior forward Marlon Ruffin scored 17 points and sophomore guard Colin Schaefer contributed 14 points for the Cardinals (10-1 overall, 8-1 Big Eight Conference), ranked fourth in Division 1 in The Associated Press poll.
Johnson scored 12 points in the first half when the Cardinals took a 34-27 lead and he scored eight points during a 15-2 run immediately after halftime when Sun Prairie raced to a 20-point advantage.
“We noticed we had a mismatch,” said Johnson, in his fifth game since coming back from a foot stress fracture. “That was the game plan — to get the ball inside. We had a height advantage and we took advantage of that weakness. I try to be patient — that’s when you’ll get open. Then you’ll get your shot and you’ll want to take it.”
Johnson also was a presence on the backboards.
“The past games I have not been rebounding as much as I should,” he said. “I wanted to clean the glass. We’ve been working on that in practice.”
Sun Prairie, which has won six consecutive games, took a half-game lead over Madison Memorial for first place in the league standings. Madison Memorial’s game against Beloit Memorial on Thursday was postponed due to inclement weather.
“I don’t think we dwell on where we are or where we stand (in the league),” Boos said. “We stress where we need to get better.”
Sophomore guard Isaiah Stewart came off the bench and led the eighth-ranked Lancers (9-3, 6-3) with 13 points, while junior guard Donneil Gray scored 10 points. But the Cardinals prevented the Lancers from getting into their explosive fast-break style.
“By just running our offense and making it a half-court game, it took away from their strength and now you make them play in the half court,” Boos said.
The Cardinals scored the first nine points after halftime as part of that 15-2 run, opening a 49-29 lead. While Johnson scored eight of those points, all from the inside, Schaefer added four points and Ruffin converted a three-point play.
“That kind of put the dagger in and let them know, ‘We are not going to mess around here,’ ” Boos said. “The kids did a good job coming out and doing what we asked them to do and executing it.”
Lancers coach Curtrel Robinson said it was a challenge matching up against Johnson, whose dunk with 3 minutes, 28 seconds left gave Sun Prairie a 69-47 lead and caused a delay while the rim was put back into place.
“I felt we did a decent job early on,” Robinson said. “There were times we looked really good for stretches and there were times when we didn’t look very good, on him, in particular. But we’ve got to find a way to score. We play good ‘D’ and we are fighting hard, but we are struggling to score.
“We had 18 turnovers tonight — that’s the most turnovers we’ve had all year. … I credit it to their length and their size. That’s a tough team, a good team, especially at home.
“But I just don’t think they are 20 points better than us. But we’ve got to figure it out. We can’t let this marinate. We have to move on.”
Madison La Follette 27 25 — 52
Sun Prairie 34 40 — 74
MADISON LA FOLLETTE — Seward 1 2-3 4, Probst 3 0-0 6, Smith 3 0-3 6, Gray 5 0-0 10, Reeves Jr. 2 0-0 5, Cameron 1 0-2 2, Stewart 4 3-4 13, West 2 1-5 6. Totals 21 6-17 52.
SUN PRAIRIE — Ruffin 5 5-7 17, Jansen 3 1-2 7, Williams 1 0-0 3, Schaefer 6 2-2 14, Nelson 2 0-0 4, Johnson 11 0-2 22, Hale 2 2-3 6, Hawk 0, Fenderson 0 1-2 1. Totals 30 11-20 74.
3-point goals — ML 4 (Reeves Jr. 1, Stewart 2, West 1), SP 2 (Ruffin 2). Total fouls — SP 18, ML 17. Fouled out — Hale. Technical foul — ML bench.