Sun Prairie boys basketball coach Jeff Boos had a message for his team at halftime after defense dominated in the first half and left Thursday night’s game against Madison Memorial tied at 13.
“Our point was, first and foremost, ‘You have to have confidence,’ ” Boos said. “Sometimes, you lose that confidence. I just told our guys, ‘Play with confidence. Trust what you are doing and it will come around. We know we are going to get that spurt.’ ”
That spurt came immediately after halftime during Sun Prairie’s 41-32 Big Eight Conference victory over the host Spartans before a boisterous, packed house.
Sun Prairie senior guard Marlon Ruffin scored the first nine points of the second half and the conference-leading Cardinals (17-1 overall, 14-1 Big Eight) broke open the game with an 11-0 run in the first 2 minutes, 53 seconds after halftime.
“The coaches just said, ‘Play your game in the second half, everything will come, and come out with some fire,’ ” Ruffin said. “That’s what we did. We took care of business.”
The 6-foot-4 Ruffin, who scored all 13 of his points in the second half, came out of intermission and made one of two free throws after being fouled on a drive, then sank a 3-pointer from out front.
He followed with a steal at half court and was fouled on a dunk that led to a contentious sequence in which technicals were called on Spartans coach Steve Collins, who came out onto the court, Spartans sophomore forward Yacouba Traore Jr. and Cardinals sophomore forward Jalen Johnson.
Ruffin wound up completing his three-point play and sank two technical free throws; Sun Prairie led 22-13 with 15:37 left to play.
“I didn’t score in the first half, so I was trying to get going,” Ruffin said. “The first drive went in and then it just felt good from there.”
The 6-8 Johnson’s basket extended the lead to 24-13. Johnson, saddled with foul trouble, finished with seven points for Sun Prairie, ranked second in Division 1 by The Associated Press and “the best team in the state, bar none,” according to Collins.
“The first half was good,” said Collins, adding he had “no comment” about the play leading to his technical. “We took the shots and did the things we needed to do in the first half. Then I think we took a couple not great shots in the second half and had a couple turnovers, and then it snowballed. The margin of error against a team like that is really small.”
The Spartans (14-5, 11-4), who have lost three consecutive games, were without starting guard Tyshawn Caldwell (illness). Starting point guard Cade Ellingson came off the bench because he’d also been ill, Collins said.
The Spartans used an 8-0 run — beginning with 3-pointers by Ellingson (10 points) and junior forward Nick Caropreso (team-high 13 points) — and clawed within 33-30 with 3:10 remaining. But Sun Prairie answered with a three-point play by Ruffin with 2:37 left and senior Caden White’s basket off an assist from Ruffin with 1:14 to play, giving the Cardinals a 38-30 lead.
Sun Prairie has won 13 consecutive games since losing to Memorial 54-51 on Dec. 16 — a game in which Johnson didn’t play due to a foot injury.
“I thought our kids played well,” Boos said. “We didn’t play with Jalen for a long time (Thursday) and still hung in there. Kids coming off the bench gave us help in the first half. It is a tough place to play.
“(The Spartans) knew what is at stake; they are playing with the conference championship on the line for 14 years in a row. They did a good job. We got them in the second half with our defense. We made it hard on them.”
Sun Prairie, which got eight rebounds from senior forward Marty Strey, leads second-place Madison La Follette by two games with three league games to play, while third-place Memorial trails by three games.
Sun Prairie 13 28 — 41
Madison Memorial 13 19 — 32
SUN PRAIRIE — Ruffin 3 6-8 13, Strey 2 1-2 5, Jansen 3 0-0 6, White 1 0-0 2, Schaefer 2 0-0 6, Johnson 3 1-2 7, Hale 1 0-2 2. Totals 15 8-14 41.
MADISON MEMORIAL — Brown 2 1-1 5, Krumbach 1 0-0 2, Grays 1 0-0 2, Ellingson 3 2-2 10, Caropreso 6 0-1 13. Totals 13 3-5 32.
3-point goals — SP 3 (Schaefer 2, Ruffin 1), MM 3 (Ellingson 2, Caropreso 1). Total fouls — SP 14, MM 16. Technical fouls — Coach Collins (Memorial), Johnson (SP), Traore Jr. (Memorial).